Home News A unique rural architecture in the world – Chiara Di Giorgio

A unique rural architecture in the world – Chiara Di Giorgio

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A unique rural architecture in the world – Chiara Di Giorgio

There is a village in the Lucan hinterland where wine has always been produced in palmenti, ancient underground structures, unique in Italic rural architecture. We are in Pietragalla, in the province of Potenza, whose historic center is inhabited by 119 people. The town, at 840 meters above sea level, dominates the valley crossed by the river Cancellara and develops between c’mon e chjazzòdd (alleys and alleys) paved in stone. As are the facades of the houses, the bell towers, the churches and the Ducal Palace, which is still inhabited today by the grandchildren of the factor of the last noble family of the place, the Acquaviva.

Urban park of the palmenti of Pietragalla. Power, 2020.

(Angelo Gabriele Mazzolla)

The widespread devotion to San Rocco is evident from the name of the elderly and also of some young people: Rocco and Rocchina are the two guides who accompany us to discover Pietragalla.

Dug into the southern side of the hill on which the village stands, the millstones are tuff caves dating back to the early nineteenth century, which today retain an almost fairytale character. “The etymology of the word palmento derives from the Latin the floorfor the floor where the grapes were pressed ”, says Rocchina D’Amico, member of the pro loco of Pietragalla and founder, together with other local women, of the cooperative Pietragalla experience.

The interior of each cave has two or three pools. The grapes, transported on donkeys from the surrounding vineyards, were poured into the smaller tank and pressed barefoot, then the must flowed through a hole into the tank below. After twenty days of fermentation, the tapped wine was placed in wooden barrels and transported to the rottencaves for conservation concentrated in the opposite part of the country and abandoned from the sixties onwards.

Of the two hundred millstones still intact, sixty are managed by the municipality and are open to the public, but only one is still active in its original function. It is the millstone of Antonio Nolè, a thirty-three year old from Pietragalla with a degree in agricultural science, who produces twenty quintals of wine a year. “I inherited it from my grandfather, from whom I learned all the secrets of the trade,” he says.

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The last harvests in the millstones date back to 1986, Antonio remained the only one to carry on the family trade, replacing the pressing with the feet with the mechanical one.

The smallest women of the village slipped naked into the barrels to clean them from the laying of the old wine

Pietragalla’s life has always revolved around wine, to the point of dictating its urban conformation: the village, which develops in three concentric rings, is cut by the so-called “via del vino”, a shortcut that allowed you to move more quick between the millstones and the rotten.

“The houses, the streets, the way of life, family relationships, behaviors: everything here speaks in a peasant way”, writes Rocco Manzella, historian of Pietragalla, in his book Pietragalla yesterday and today (Teodosio Pisani Editions 2019). Today the village still retains that atmosphere thanks to the stories of its inhabitants.

Among the best known is the Z’cchin family. The front door of his rotten it is made up of two wooden plates tied together by wire: entering them is like going back in time. You have to go down a dozen stone steps, of which only the first are illuminated by the external light, then you need the torch.

At the end of the stairs the ground is wet and uneven; here, in summer and winter, the temperature remains constant at sixteen degrees, also thanks to the choice of building the rotten on the north side of the country. Continuing to the bottom of the cave are the barrels, arranged in two rows.

On the trail of the Templars

Every rotten it had several owners, who secured the “barrel place”. “Every October, before the harvest began, the smallest women of the village slipped naked into the barrels to clean them from the laying of the old wine, scratching the internal surfaces with ash and butcher’s broom. They entered through a very narrow slot and stayed inside for hours ”, Manzella says, explaining how crafts of all kinds were born around wine. Another was that of answeredthe broker who accompanied potential buyers from neighboring regions to Pietragalla, to let them taste the wine.

The oenological tradition is not the only one that characterizes this village. Although there are no written sources, oral testimonies handed down for centuries link Pietragalla to the passage of the knights of the religious order of the Templars, headed to the Holy Land at the time of the Crusades.

The venerated saints – such as Cataldo, Teodosio, Giorgio – and those to whom the country chapels are named bear the name of Knights Templar. Furthermore, walking through the alleys of Pietragalla you come across Templar crosses several times, such as the one that overlooks a side entrance, now walled up, of the mother church of San Nicola di Bari.

The traces of this legend are even more visible in the architecture of nearby Acerenza, the main center of the so-called “valley of the knights”, and in particular in some details of its cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and to San Canio bishop. A small window in the crypt is indicated by tradition as the place where, for centuries, the Holy Grail would be kept.

Another legend concerns the bishop Canio: arrested in Africa in the third century and condemned to be beheaded because he was a Christian, he was saved only thanks to inexplicable climatic events that frightened the executioner before the execution. The bishop’s body is buried in this church along with some relics and, according to well-established popular belief, his staff, when exposed, moves by itself.

The presence of a strange coat of arms of a winged dragon on the facade has led some to speculate that the daughter of Prince Vlad III of Wallachia, the man around whom the legend of Count Dracula was born, is buried in the cathedral. The winged dragon was in fact the heraldic symbol of the prince and the monsters carved next to the dragon seem to make a further reference to the Transylvanian family. Whether they are just legends or not, all these tales are now part of the cultural identity of the locals and today they are a business card that attracts tourists.

Acerenza is a very ancient village. Already in the fifth century AD he was listed among the richest in southern Italy, so much so that the following century he was chosen by the emperor Justinian as a military garrison. Contested for years by Lombards and Byzantines, its decline began with the sacking wanted by Emperor Henry VI, father of Frederick II. From that moment the village started to decline slowly due to the change from hand to hand.

Today Acerenza is a typical Lucanian country town, with a very well-kept historic center. The hall of the coats of arms of the bishop’s palace is spectacular: a hall frescoed in 1709 with dozens of heraldic coats of arms and landscape views of a primitive and wild Basilicata.

In the surroundings of the town there are natural beauties to be discovered. Lake Acerenza, for example, is a large artificial basin born from the damming of the Bradano river. For lovers of outdoor sports there are the Lucanian Apennines and the clay hills with spectacular formations within walking distance.

And then in Acerenza there are several paths for walking and trekking. Among the most characteristic is the path that leads to the Murgia of the Madonna: a large rocky spur that emerges from the neighboring wooded area and which owes its name to its shape reminiscent of a Madonna in prayer.

Finally, Acerenza can be the beginning of a greater journey: for those who want to follow the legends of the Templars, the route continues towards the villages of Venosa, Castelmezzano, Oppido Lucano and Banzi.

La saitera
In Pietragalla, an ancient one rotten adapted to a restaurant offering real Lucanian cuisine.

The falco farms
In Acerenza, contemporary cuisine in a country farmhouse

Restaurant at the Duomo
In Acerenza, gourmet restaurant with regional dishes in a nineteenth-century building

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