Well away from the throngs of tourists in other parts of Italy, the tiny double island of Gaiola just west of Naples is abandoned and ghostly. There are many legends about the place being cursed. In the early 1800s, the island was inhabited by a local hermit who everyone knew only as "Il Mago" (the Wizard). As most hermits, he lived a troubled, lonely life, existing on handouts of fish from local fishermen. Without warning, he mysteriously disappeared. It's not known if he cursed the island, but many unfortunate things came to pass for people who either lived on or owned the island.
There is a small villa on one of the islets that has been occupied by many different types of people: A famous author, a Swiss businessman, a German investor, a pharmaceutical magnate, a steel baron, the Head of Fiat, billionaire J. Paul Getty, and an insurance company CEO. All met with strange fates either while on the island or shortly after purchasing it. Here's just a few of the cursed events:
The two twin islets are only about 100 feet from the amazingly rugged and beautiful coast of the Capo di Posillipo. Their main attraction is that they are akin to the original Siamese twins, joined by a narrow stone bridge that runs between them. In Italian, their name is Isola La Gaiola, which uses a variant of the local dialect word for cave (caviola), referring to the many small caves and grottoes are seemingly everywhere along this part of the coast.
Area Marina Protetta Parco Sommerso di Gaiola
For for SCUBA divers and and snorkelers alike, the waters surrounding Gaiola is a wonderful haven. They are a part of the Gaiola Protected Marine Underwater Park, a 100 acre marine preserve meant to protect the diverse marine ecosystem here as well as ancient underwater Roman ruins.
Underwater ruins are scattered around the crystal clear waters. Some of the marine creatures here are found nowhere else on Earth. Consider the excitement of snorkeling among the underwater ruins of an ancient Roman temple.
If driving, you can reach the Park by driving down the Discesa Gaiola road, where you will find a car park on the left, followed by a short walk to the site. But be aware that in recent years, local police have placed a ban on vehicular traffic, from 7am to 7pm. You may also park up the hill on Via Tito Lucrezio Caro (there is a parking meter for tickets) and walk down the hill (15 minutes). And don't forget to check out the neighboring Archeological Park of Pausilypon.
Descent Gaiola (Cliff S.Basilio Cala), 80123 - Napoli
Tel / Fax: 0812403235
from 1 to 31 October: daily except Monday at 10.00 to 14.00
from November 1st to March 31st: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10.00 to 14.00
from April 1 to 30 September:
every day except Monday at 10.00 to 16.00
Nisida is a volcanic island near Cape Posillipo southeast of Naples. The crescent shaped island is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. Being a volcano, there is a flooded crater forming the bay of Porto Paone on the southwest side--a small cove, really. The island is a bit more than a half mile across and juts out of the Tyrrhenian Sea to a height of 350 feet.
You can park and walk to the island on the stone bridge or go by boat--renting one at the nearby marina. Visiting the far side and cove of Nisida is really the best way to enjoy its natural beauty. Nisida doesn't have a beach of its own, but the rocky side of the island is worth exploring by boaters.
There is a large public beach on the mainland facing Nisida, with a parking lot just on the left before the causeway. Adjacent to the causeway is a public marina where you visitors might be able to hire a boat. Several restaurants are also nearby. As with many parts of Italy, some of the area is covered in graffiti and looks worse for wear, but then again, this is Naples.
If you walk to the island, you can hike in the non-restricted areas and take in the views of Naples and the surrounding bay and islands. The pebbled beach is surrounded by clean crystal clear water. You can relax in a private shady spot in the woods that cover the island nearly down to the beach. If you sail, you can rent small sailboats and cruise the waters around the island, and if you go by boat, be sure to check out the arch and the grottoes cut into the far side of the island.
In the time of the Romans, politician and military leader Lucius Licinius Lucullus built a villa on the collapsed and flooded island volcano of Nisida. Another general, Marcus Iunius Brutus (of et tu Brute fame) also built a villa there for holidays and some say the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar was plotted there. You might say this was the Cape David of the day where the military leaders went for vacation, to rest, recharge and ponder their next battle while they enjoyed the comfort and pleasures of this island in the sea.
Brutus's wife Porcia, committed suicide sometime after learning of Brutus' plan to assassinate Julius Caesar. Some historians think Brutus and Cassius hatched their plan here on Nisida. Some of the archaeological remains on Nisida are supposedly of Brutus' villa.
Since then, there have been monasteries, a castle and even a prison on the island. Artists and noblemen would flock to it and even Cervantes was inspired by its mystery and charm. Today there is a rehabilitation center on the island for young boys at risk where they learn trades such as carpentry, ceramics, glass-making and other skills. The NATO Maritime Command also has it's headquarters on the island, although most of their personnell has moved to a newer facility further north.
In addition to the island itself, it's worth a visit to Parco Virgiliano (the Park of Remembrance), a scenic park located on the hill of Posillipo, just across from Nisida. The Park serves as a green oasis atop the tufa stone typical to the coast of Posillipo. A series of terraces 500 feet above the Gulf of Naples provides the park with a unique array of impressive vistas, including views of Nisida... the views at sunset are stunning.
For SCUBA divers and kayakers, the rugged coastline just to the east of Nisida , know as Area Marina Protetta Parco Sommerso di Gaiola is also worth exploring. There are several kayak rentals nearby and many sea grottoes to explore. If you are diving, the opportunity of diving through a sunken Roman villa can't be missed.
You might also be interested in...
A Tuscan Beach Vacation: The Maremma
Off the Tourist Path: A Visit to Tropea on the Coast of the Gods
Jewels from the Sea: Glass Beaches in Italy
Vieste and the Legend of Pizzomunno: the Gargano Peninsula, Puglia
Off the Tourist Path: Gaiola Island, Naples
Off the Beaten Path: Scala di Turchi - White Rock Stairs on the Sicilian Coast
Castel del Monte, located in the municipality of Andria in Puglia, rises up from a rocky hill dominating the surrounding countryside of the Murgia region near the Adriatic Sea. A unique piece of medieval architecture, it was completed in 1240 AD. The castle’s location, its perfect octagonal shape, as well as the mathematical and astronomical precision of its layout all reflect the education and cultural vision of its founder, Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, although the actual architect and builder is still unknown.
As a leader of modern humanism, the Germanic Emperor brought scholars together in his court from throughout the Mediterranean, combining Eastern and Western traditions. The castle’s unique design, an octagonal plan with octagonal towers at each angle, represents a search for perfection. Interior features reflect Eastern influences, such as the innovative hydraulic installation used by Frederick II which used rain water for the toilets and bathrooms of the fortress.
Although he had been the founder of the castle, it is believed that Frederick II never spent a night here. It is believed the castle was initially conceived as a hunting lodge. However, several sources suggest that in 1249 the castle was used as a theater when the wedding of Violante, Frederick’s daughter, took place. In 1256, it was used as a prison for rebels by Frederick II’s son, King Manfredo of Sicily.
The original intended use of the Castel del Monte is unclear. The shape doesn't make it look like a castle but more of a defensive fortress. But it lacks the elements that would be necessary for proper defense: it has no ditches or moat, no drawbridge, no basement..only very large, marble-covered rooms, worthy of a lavish royal residence.
During the Middle Ages, all of the rooms were decorated with precious polychrome marble, mosaics, paintings and tapestries, but unfortunately over time Castel del Monte was robbed of its treasures by looters and vandals. The castle was built using three types of material: limestone, white marble and coral breccia.
The site is of outstanding universal value in its formal perfection and its harmonious blending of cultural elements from northern Europe, the Muslim world and classical antiquity. Castel del Monte is a unique masterpiece of medieval architecture, reflecting the humanist ideas of its founder, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen.
Castel del Monte is also a designated UNESCO world heritage site and is considered to be one of the best castles in Puglia. Perched on top of a hill and see for miles around at an altitude of 540 meters, the castle can be reached by driving on the SS170 motorway.
Visiting Castel del Monte
April 1 to September 30 from 10:15 to 19:45 - The ticket office closes at 18.00 hrs.
October 1 to March 28 from 9:00 to 18:30 - The ticket office closes at 19.15 hrs.
The full-price ticket costs 7.00 €, reduced rate of € 3.50 for age group 18-25. Free entry for under-18s and over-65s.
Free entry on the first Sunday of the month. Free if you show your handicapped placard or card.
Italians love their presepe (nativity scenes). They buy them, they collect figures, they even make them from scratch and compete in their local competitions. And no where do they celebrate and promote the presepio as much as on Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples. In fact, it's an all-year-round thing, so if you visit Naples in the summer, plan ahead and buy a presepe and some figures for next Christmas. If not, try visiting when the shops are gearing up for the holiday rush and putting out their newest creations during September or October.
This street is packed full with shops selling artistic Italian style nativity figures and structures on which to display them. Many of these are actually wonderful examples of artistic talent, a craft passed on from generation to generation. Visitors can even watch how they are made in the workshops and studios--hands, feet and heads in terracotta, and clothing from fabrics or cartapesta (Papier-mâché). Still other craftsmen create all manner of structures like barns, villas, temples or entire villages out of plaster and paint.
In recent years, presepe figures have been made to mimic popular culture. You'll find not only the Pope, but soccer players, movie stars, politicians and recording artists.
Ostuni is known as White City of Apulia because of its stark white buildings perched high above the plain below. Located about 5 miles and within sight of the Adriatic coastline, it has a year-round population of about 32,000 inhabitants, but can swell in the tourist season to over 100,000. Part of the province of Brindisi, a region with high production of both wine and olive oil. The town is a popular popular place for expats, especially British and Germans.
The region around Ostuni has been inhabited since the Neolithic era, with Neanderthals living here over 40,000 years ago. The town itself was settled by the Messapii tribe, destroyed by Hannibal during the Punic Wars. It was rebuilt by the Greeks, its name deriving from the Greek Astynéon ("new town").
The town came under rule of the Romans until the Normans conquered it in 996 AD and built a medieval town around the summit of the 950 feet high hill, including a castle and four gates (ruins today). In 1507, rule passed to Isabella, Duchess of Bari, and under her rule Ostuni thrived during the Italian Renaissance, with an abundance of Renaissance architecture left behind.
The white color of the town had practical advantages. Since at least the time of the Middle Ages, the lime whitewashing helped keep buildings cool by reflecting the heat of the southern sun. Lime whitewash also has disinfectant properties, helping to slow the spread of disease--this was proven during the Middle Ages, lessening the spread of the Plague.
Lime is readily available in the surroundings of the city since the town itself is built upon three hills of Cretaceous limestone. The White City has become such a popular destination for tourists that the government pays for half the cost of homeowners repainting their homes every two years to keep them looking their whitest.
The centro storico (historic center) is still fortified by the ancient walls. The town's largest buildings are the Ostuni Duomo and the Bishop's Palace, together with a number of palazzi of local aristocratic families. In the surrounding countryside there are typical Pugliese masserie (fortified large estate-farms), as well as trulli (pointed roofed structures), many of which today have been converted into hotels and B&Bs. Since 2010, there has been such a large influx of British expats buying properties, that the town has been given the tongue-in-cheek nickname of Salentoshire.
La Processione della Grata - On the second Sunday of August, this procession leaves the Sanctuary della Grata to go to the center of the city and, and in the evening the candles of over six thousand people light up the countryside which can be viewed from the city's walls.
Sagra dei Vecchi Tempi - Feast of the Old Times. August 15th is a local food festival with many traditional dishes.
Cavalcata di Sant’Oronzo - a celebration of the town’s patron saint, takes place between the 24th-27th August. The high point are costumed knights and a procession on horseback.
Festa di San Biagio - On February 3rd, thousands of pilgrims go to the sanctuary of San Biagio carved into the side of the limestone hillside, just outside of town. The Sanctuary is notable for a huge, ancient sinkhole considered by speleologists the biggest underground cavity in Puglia. Visitors can enjoy the natural landscape in the surrounding area.- Via dei Colli, Ostuni, Puglia
Just remember to bring your sunglasses if you plan on visiting Ostuni -- it's that white.
Altamura is primarily known for its world famous crusty bread that lasts for weeks, but man doesn't live by bread alone. An occasional musical interlude helps, too...
The Teatro Mercadante of Altamura began a new history in the Pugliese city in 2014 after 25 years of closure, thanks to the patronage by Altamura entrepreneurs. The beautifully restored classical Italian theater hosts a mixture of opera, jazz, classical comedies, Avant-garde performances, modern plays and philharmonic concerts.
The theater is named after one of Altamura's favorite sons, Giuseppe Saverio Raffaele Mercadante (1795 -1870), an Italian composer, particularly of operas. After his death in 1870, the city of Altamura decided to build a new theater to honor his memory, starting construction in 1895 and finishing (amazingly) within six months! Originally, each person contributing to the effort, paid at least 5 lira which would represent "ownership" of the stage, a lamp, a door or a chair proportional to the amount paid.
The interior of the theater is horseshoe shaped, consisting of four tiers of boxes and stalls with a capacity of approximately 500 seats, which results in there being no bad seat in the house. The historic curtain, entitled Mirabile, is the work of the painter Montagano, depicting Frederick II of Swabia and the construction of the Altamura Duomo.
While Mercadante may not have retained the international celebrity of Gaetano Donizetti or Gioachino Rossini beyond his own lifetime, he composed as impressive a number of works. His development of operatic structures, melodic styles and orchestration contributed significantly to the foundations upon which Giuseppe Verdi built his dramatic technique.
Attending a play or concert in this wonderful Italian theater would be an experience that will add eternal memories to your Voyage to Puglia and Altamura...
In the baroque town of Caltagirone, Sicily, the main attraction is its ceramics industry. The name of the town derives from the Arabic word qal’at-al-ghiran, meaning Castle of Vases. There are ceramics everywhere you look... as tile murals on buildings, as signs, and in the many ceramics shops just waiting for a savvy Voyager to select a few special pieces to take back home.
But the tiles also adorn its stairways, the most majestic being the Scale di Santa Maria del Monte, built in 1608. Start to climb the 142 steps and you will be reading the town's history, each step telling their stories on hand-painted ceramic tiles that clad each stair’s riser. There are many fantastic characters, battle scenes, landscapes and symbolic patterns. It's a wonder to think that the staircase was rebuilt by the town after being destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 which destroyed most of the town. The Scale is a symbol of the town's resilience and rightfully, was honored as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002.
When you arrive at the top of this kaleidoscopic ascent, you turn around only to notice that the steps' colors have disappeared, seemingly to allow you to focus on the wonderful views of the town itself with its Baroque architecture. With tiles and ceramics being part of the architecture of the town, anyone who loves colorful ceramics would love visiting Caltagirone.
You can see wonderful tile installations in its churches and palazzi, the Majolica Bridge of San Francesco, as well as in the Giardino Villa Comunale, a well cared for public garden. Worth a look are elaborate balcony of Casa Ventimiglia in Via Roma and Palazzo della Magnolia, in Via Luigi Sturzo with its terracotta embellishments.
If you go:
Caltagirone is located 43 miles southwest of Catania in southern Sicily. You can get there by bus from Catania but a car is recommended. Today the town thrives on tourists and ceramic collectors who visit over 130 ceramics studios and shops. The style of ceramics here is called Maiolica (Majolica) and is distinctively different from other areas of Sicily.
Museo Regionale della Ceramica
Examples of Sicilian ceramic objects dating from prehistoric times to the present day. One enters the museum through the so-called Teatrino (Little Theater), a belvedere dating from 1792 with steps and its decorated balustrade.
Teatrino del Bonaiuto, Giardini Pubblici 96041
Caltagirone, Sicily, Italy
Tel: 39 0933 58423
Palio della Rana
The Palio della Rana is a frog race--well, sort of. It's a wheelbarrow race with frogs. It usually takes place the weekend after Easter in the town of Fermignano, between Urbino and Urbania in central Italy's Marche region. Contestants, representing each of the seven contrade (neighborhoods) dress in historic costume and race with frogs atop small wheelbarrows, trying to reach the finish line before the frog hops off. Each frog is placed on a blue wooden carriola (wheelbarrow). The scarriolanti (wheelbarrow runners) race to the finish line while trying to keep the frogs on their wheelbarrows. If a frog jumps off, the competitor must stop, place the frog back on the wheelbarrow platform, and then keep going. There's also a procession in historical costume and food.
The date of Rome's founding (in 753BC) is celebrated on April 21 so if you're in Rome, watch for festivals, concerts, and special events. There's usually a fireworks display over the Tiber River and gladiator shows around the forum area. Find out more in April Events in Rome.
Palio dei Buoi
In the towns of Asigliano and Caresana on April 23 (the saint day of San Giorgio) the Palio dei Buoi (oxen race) takes place every year. Historically in this area, oxen were used in pairs to tow the plow and to carry out other heavy jobs in the countryside. Both the Caresana and Asigliano races have been held for over 700 years. San Giorgio is the patron saint of farm workers. Recently, the race has been delayed due to protests from animal rights activists.
Festival of San Marco
The Festa di San Marco is a traditional celebration dedicated to Venice’s patron St Mark the Evangelist, believed to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. Several relics from the saint still remain in the city, who is also said to have founded the Church of Alexandria. Festa di San Marco is also known as the Rosebud Festival or Festa del bocolo (rosebud in Venetian dialect) where traditionally men gift the woman they love with a single red rose, to commemorate an old legend connected to the history of Venice. A highlight of the festival occurs in Saint Mark's Square on April 25 including a procession to the basilica. (See Liberation Day below)
International Handicrafts Fair
Since 1931 in Florence, the Mostra Mercato Internazionale Dell'Arginianto, the world's premier market of artistic crafts, will be held from April 21 through May 1. Spread out over 55,ooo square meters in the Fortezza da Basso, over 800 exhibitors from all over Italy and from 50 countries will display and sell their beautiful Italian and international handcrafted items. All sorts of crafts are on display including lamps, pottery, rugs, fabrics, musical instruments, masks and statues. There will also be food to enjoy and taste, with many artisinal products, wines, gelato and more.
The Race of the Ring
The Corsa all'Anello in Narni in Umbria is part of the celebrations held from April 24 through May 13 this year. During this medieval jousting competition, horsemen try to snare rings. There are also a historical procession and other events.
The artichoke (did you know it is an aphrodisiac?) is the object of a three-day Festa di Carciofo (artichoke festival) held from April 12th through 14th in the coastal town of Ladispoli, just outside of Rome in Lazio. It's been a tradition now to honor the Roman Artichoke at this special festival. It forms the foundation of a wide selection of dishes created specially at this event. Visitors can sample the artichoke-related dishes on offer, which contain a delicious and unique combination of flavors.
But the most interesting thing to see is artichoke sculpture competition. Entrants can create anything they wish, from boats to life-sized animals such as tortoises, horses and elephants!
San Biagio Day
San Biagio is the Patron Saint of Avetrana in Southern Puglia. He was known in his time for being a doctor and saver of lives, and for being the Bishop of Sebaste between the third and fourth centuries. He was also known for his firm religious beliefs, and unfortunately, these were to ultimately cost him his own life. Having been imprisoned for his Christian beliefs, he was put on trial and – having refused to renounce his faith – was beheaded in 316. April 28th and 29th sees a two-day celebration of San Biagio with a combination of sombre procession and later upbeat fireworks, luminarie (display of lights) and music from bands as well as street fairs, food and drink.
Liberation Day (National Holiday)
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the day that Italy was released from the Nazis and the rule of Mussolini by Allied troops. The following year in 1946, the first national holiday was held to mark this occasion. The country will come together to remember those that fell in the war and to honor the dead. In addition, there will also be festivals, concerts and bands to mark the day.
In Venice, it will be a doubly special day – in addition to Liberation Day, Venetians will also be marking the Festival Of St Mark, the city's patron saint. Bands and musicians will provide a series of aural treats, while markets and carnivals will add to the fun. The famous boat race, Regata di Traghetti, will also see teams of gondoliers competing to win first prize while ferrying passengers.
One of the most beautiful towns we visited in Puglia was Polignano al Mare. We walked the old historic center, took lots of photos, and were amazed by their beach, hugged by rocky cliffs of the Saracen Cove on either side. One of the most unusual offerings is the Grotta Palasezze, a restaurant built into a large grotto hanging just meters over the sea. If you frequent pretty much any social media sites about Italy, I'm certain you've seen photos of the place. It's definitely jaw-droppingly beautiful.
To be honest, Voyaging with an eleven-year old, we decided not to go there for dinner. You see, I had researched this place before our Voyage ever started. Not simply because we thought it wasn't kid-friendly (it really isn't), and not because our (then, 11 year-old) son Lucas wouldn't enjoy it. In actuality, he has a very sophisticated palette and handles him self very well whenever we go to posh places. We're always given compliments about him--ever since he was a toddler. There were two other main reasons...
One is the price. This place is very expensive. You're paying for their uniqueness and the view. They charge €10 per person for cover. They'll charge you €50 for a €10 bottle of regional wine which you can usually find in a local alimentari for around €6, but the rest of the wine list will cost from €100 - €600 a bottle. (We tend to like moderately priced, good wines and never pay over-inflated restaurant prices when we can avoid it). You'll pay another €45 or so for a single serving aperitivo. Then another €45 for la primo of pasta or risotto and €45 per secondi--fish or meat entrees. And be careful about surcharges ("market price") for things like shrimp and prawns (up to €150 a pound or more!) If you want to have a six plate tasting menu instead, that'll set you back €140 each. For dessert, a semifreddo is about €15.
So, given the exchange rate when we were there, if we did three tastings, one bottle of mineral water, desserts and no wine, we still would have spent over $600!
The second reason we opted no to go? This place is way too formal for our tastes. I mean, the waiters usually are dressed better than the clientele. There is an old-school dress code in place here... but the odd thing is, they really don't enforce it (for nicely dressed people), otherwise they'd be turning away most of the more casually dressed tourist clientele. Just don't show up wearing shorts. They will turn you away with a real attitude, reservation or not.
This is the new millennium, after all. "Dress codes" are pretty much meaningless, so why should the wait staff have to dress so darned stuffy, too? It's damned off-putting. Besides, if I'm going to be paying such over-inflated prices, I should be able to dress any damned way I want. In reality, you get an odd mix of tourists dressed nicely but casually, mixed in with a few locals dressed for their "bella figura" having dinner for a special event--anniversary or whatever.
And in the end, there are two things that prove this is an overpriced place marketed to foreign tourists: The menus are printed in both Italian and English--a sure sign of a tourist joint. Secondly (according to many online reviewers, and perhaps most important of all), the staff tends to rush you along through your meal, unlike most ristoranti. It's the Italian custom never to rush through a meal--especially when you're in a restaurant. Most local places expect to have only one cover per table each night. People may take 4 hours to enjoy their meal and conversation. At Grotta Palazzase they are trying to move you out of the way so they can have at least two sittings each evening, perhaps as many as four. Not very Italian of them, is it?
As it turns out, we still enjoyed the views of the sea at a chic bistro-pizzeria at the other end of the little bay, and had wonderful wine, fantastic aperitivi, the best pizzas in all of Italy and amazing desserts--all for around €60 for the three of us--at Terazza Pizzeria.
In the end, if you really want to have the experience of dining in Polignano al Mare, try the Terazza Pizzeria (very affordable, casual), or Il Bastione (affordable, casual) with an outdoor dining terrace hanging on the cliff above the Cove. It has a dramatic view of the Cove and its houses clinging to the cliff with a more affordable and diversified menu. (How does €60 for two sound?) The views will stay with you forever--along with most of your cash! If one compares the photos of the dishes served in Il Bastione and Grotta Palasezze, you'll see the quality looks very similar. This is Puglia, after all... most places serve wonderful food--especially from the sea.
Il Bastione, above - Grotta Palasezze, below
But if you're really hell bent on eating dinner in a cave, I suggest taking a drive to Matera, the Sassi city, where most of the restaurants in the Sassi district are in caves. No sea view, but still a great, romantic experience, especially if you take a passeggiata (stroll) down to the Piazza along the edge of the gorge at sunset.
Borghi Fantasma (Ghost Towns) of the Cilento
The obvious thing that you notice when touring through Italy is its geology. The mountains, cliffs and hills are mostly a direct result of volcanic action--and in addition, there are three active volcanoes still terra-forming the landscape. The weather is also a factor with most of Italy experiencing a "rainy season" beginning in late October. When heavy rains come, there are floods and landslides. Earthquakes are a regular occurrence throughout Italy, too. All these can be disastrous for communities--enough so that they must abandon their homes.
Aside from the weather, there have been many other factors causing towns to be abandoned throughout Italian history: harsh living conditions, plague, lack of running water and electricity, failure of crops, pirate raids, bombings and even the massive emigration to the Americas for people striving for a better life for their families. In fact, some put the number of Ghost Towns in Italy at nearly 20,000! Many of these are wonderful snapshots in time ripe for the Slow Travel Voyager to discover.
The Cilento has been affected by some of these factors causing communities to abandon their homes--while creating some interesting Borghi Fantasma, Ghost Towns...
Romagnano al Monte
A sixty mile drive miles from Roscigno Vecchia will bring you to the ghost town of Romagnano al Monte, right on the border of Basilicata. It has a long history from the late Roman era over 1000 years ago with kings, lords, barons, brigands, and heads of murderers displayed in the piazza. After a 1980 earthquake the 600 inhabitants were relocated to a new Romagnano nearby. When I visited the site in 2014 access was restricted with a rehabilitation project underway to promote tourism. Tourists are welcomed today. The village sits 1300 feet above the Platano river canyon below and boasts two fortified religious buildings dating from the 13th century with the walls of a castle still evident. Many houses still stand, some in near perfect condition but most others severely damaged by the earthquake with nature taking over. Kitchens may still have dishes and pots, with other rooms showing little glimpses of the lives that prospered here... a doll's head, prayer icon, furniture, tools or even shoes. Click to see MAP.
Borgo Medioevale di San Severino
Perched just above the modern village of San Severino di Centola is a medieval ghost town that was abandoned decades ago, when the inhabitants decided they would like to live closer to the new railroad station. A thousand years ago, a castle and watch tower were built to protect against invaders from the Gola del Diavalo (Devil's Gorge) below. The ruins of the castle are still there to explore along with the ruins of the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and other homes in the village. In August a festival is held in the Borgo and a living creche during the Christmas season. Click for MAP.
Sacco Vecchio is a different type of ghost town, having been abandoned for unknown reasons between the 9th and 11th centuries AD, possibly due to either plague or invasion by brigands or other foreign forces. Sacco Vecchio was abandoned by its inhabitants who moved more downstream at the foot of Monte Motola. Today, visitors can hike up some very well maintained rustic steps to the ruins of the old village (about 3/4 mile walk from the modern village of Sacco), looking more like an ancient archeological site than other ghost towns abandoned in more recent times. From the 4th century, the area was settled by the Longobards and Basilic monks. There are also structures and foundations that have been dated to pre-Christian times.
Some ghost towns come with legends and Sacco Vecchio is one of them... According to an 18th century legend, the castle on top of the cliff was built around 600 AD by Duke Zottone di Benevento, to ward off the Byzantines. The overly jealous and possessive Duke accused his wife Saccia of adultery and locked her away in the castle. After the destruction of the castle in the 8th century, the inhabitants built their new village downhill called it Saccia in memory of the Duke's innocent wife.
The site is situate on top of a 400 foot tall cliff with sheer rock walls over 200 feet tall. There are many hiking trails in the area and the gorge below --the Sorgenti del Sammaro (Sammaro Springs Gorge)--that will take you to amazing rock formations shaped by the torrents flowing through the gorge. The nearby modern village of Sacco is also very picturesque and worth a visit with its narrow streets, flowered balconies and the cliffs towering above. Don't forget to visit their museum of wood artisan crafts. Click to see Map.
Grottoes and Caverns of Cilento
Grotte di Polla
Explored in 1956 by some the Grotte di Polla contains concretions of stalactites and stalagmites, but still retains a deep layer of mud on the bottom that makes things difficult for speleological explorers to explore further.
How to get there: cross the village of Polla, and follow the signs for the Convent of Sant'Antonio. One quarter of the way up Via del Convent di Sant'Antonio on a sharp curve you will find the entrance to the Grotte up a short path hidden by some vegetation. At this writing, it is not clear about how to gain access to the Grotte di Polla. It's best to contact the Commune of Polla.
This video shows a 3-D plotted animation tour of the Grotte di Polla.
La grotta di San Michele Arcangelo
Another interesting discovery in Fasanella is found 2000 feet up above the town--"Antece" - il Guerriero di Costa Palomba ("Antece", the Warrior of Costa Palomba)--a rock sculpture dating back to the 4th century BC. The ancient warrior's name is "Antecce" (in local dialect), which can be translated as either "The Ancient" or "The Immovable". He is life-sized and dressed in a warrior's tunic holding with a sword strapped to his back, a lance and a shield at his side. The road to the site is well marked from the village with a short, well kept path taking you by foot up to Antecce.
And for serious spelunkers, there is the Grava dei gatti Monti Alburni, a wonderful cave with a huge vertical sinkhole.
Also up in these hills are found an observatory, several mountain chapels and sanctuaries, and stacked rock spires. It's definitely a mystical place to visit. The road to the cave (grotto) is immediately off of the main square in the town at the end of Via Primavera. The road leading up to Antecce is on the other end of town.
While in Sant'Angelo a Fasanella, there is one other site you should visit... Cascate dell'Auso, natural springs, a source pouring out of the mountain, with a series of waterfalls and its ancient Roman arch-top bridge. This is a well-cared for natural park site with walkways, bridges, ruins of old structures and overlooks. There is a 150 foot deep sinkhole directly on top of the 1000 foot cliff that rises just above the Auso spring source, evidence of the power of water in this Karst environment. Water is everywhere underground, slowly eroding the limestone with its acids, forming caves and occasional sinkholes. This is a great spot for photos, a comfortable walk and a picnic. Take a left turn at the entrance for the Grotta di San Michele Arcangelo to get to the Auso park, about 1 mile from town.
Grotte di Pertosa
The Grotte di Pertosa are one of the best--and largest--caverns to visit in all of Italy (although the huge caverns at Castellana di Grotte in Puglia are my personal favorite). Only 40 minutes from Salerno at the northeast corner of the Monti Alburni massif (mostly highway) and about one hour 40 minutes from Agropoli (going around the mountains), they are the only caverns in Europe where you can navigate an underground river by boat. The Fiume Nero tour is mixed with silence, magnificent rock formations, occasionally interrupted by the roar of the underground waterfalls. The grottoes took Mother Nature 35 million years to form and stretch for nearly two miles under Alburni Mountains, rich with concretions, columns, "bacon"formations, stalactites and stalagmites of endless colors and sizes. One of the most popular grottoes in the region, they are often rented for receptions, weddings, film crews and even fashion shows. The temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. Click to see map.
The tiny village of Pertosa seems very well groomed due to the tourist popularity of its Grotte, but there not much else to do there aside from filling up your gas tank and eating at one of the many tourist ristorante. But there is is one more attraction to the area... Less than a half mile south of Pertosa, the Campostrino Gorge runs from the nearby hamlet of Muraglione and the village of Auletta is a popular spot for river rafting, kayaking and canyoning. is a popular spot for river rafting, kayaking and canyoning. In fact, if you are into these sports, the entire region of Cilento is ripe with options due to the many rivers and gorges.
Grotte di Castelcivita
Lying just outside the Parco Nazionale del Cilento e Vallo di Diano, at the southwest edge of the Alburni massif, the Grotte di Castelcivita caves extend for 3 miles, making them one of the largest caverns in southern Italy. They offer one shorter trail for tourists (3/4 mile) and another 3 hour excursion (1-3/4 miles long) for amateur cavers. The grotte contain world class stalactites and stalagmites and other bizarre mineral formations. The entrance to the caves are situated about a mile downhill of the hilltown of Castelcivita. There is a small ristorante/pizzeria and outdoor stands with locals selling crafts like wood carvings and pottery, and local produce like honey or cheese. Another colorful bar tabacchi sits one hundred meters down the road with a sunny outdoor patio, drinks and food. The Grotte hosts many types of performances, too... multimedia, performance artists, concerts, etc.
As you can see, this brings us nearly back to where we started our tour of the Cilento in Paestum... a 45 minute drive from Castelcivita. Of course, there is so much to do in the Cilento that you can make your own itinerary depending on your interests and the time you have to spend there. The Cilento can be where you head toward after visiting Naples and the Amalfi Coast, or you can combine a trip through the Cilento on the way to points further south in Basilicata, Puglia, Calabria or Sicily. The more you explore southern Italy, the more wonderful things you'll discover... like the Cilento!
I hope this three part series has helped.
Copyright 2017, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved