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Monday, August 18, 2008


There are a wonderful array of random, interesting facts about the Italian region of Basilicata: the regional capital of Potenza is the highest in Italy, the region used to be called Lucania (with the people of Basilicata still often referred to as Lucanians), it is known for its traditional handicraft (especially using wood and ceramic mediums), it is one of few regions with shores on both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, etc. Though the region is not exactly economically well off, the people live by holding steadfast to tradition.

Lucanians have adapted to the fact that Basilicata is a mostly mountainous region—some in more creative ways than others. In the city of Matera, a traveler should be sure to experience the architectural phenomenon of the Sassi. The people of Matera sculpted the buildings of the Sassi from the side of the mountain on Murgia Plateau, on the edge of a ravine. Carved from the tufa, the homes are part-mountain, part-hand-built. They left no room to spare; the buildings were constructed in extremely close proximity to each other, often one right on top of the next. And the homes are not the only attractions of the Sassi. Because of the region’s passion for tradition and religion, it comes as no surprise that over 150 rock-cliff churches, partially carved right out of the mountain or into the sides of caves, exist along the ravine. As the site is so important to the history and culture of the region, UNESCO named the Sassi a world heritage site in 1993.

For more information on Basilicata (especially Matera), a great site to visit is

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Puglia (Apulia)

The heel to Italy’s boot, the region of Puglia (called Apulia in English) meets the shores of both the Ionian and Adriatic seas. With hundreds of km of coastline, Puglia might initially seem like an obvious tourist attraction but for whatever reason, compared to other regions in Italy, tourism here is relatively slow. This could actually make for an incredible travel experience without the crowds and the noise.

The province of Bari is home to an important seaport and the region’s capitol, a city where modernization grew around a traditional city center instead of replacing it. With its historical churches and annual festival (Fiera del Levante is one of Italy’s most popular fairs), the city of Bari is definitely worth a visit. However, if time is limited, a definite on the “must see in Puglia” list should surely be Castel del Monte. Still within the province of Bari, this castle could be one of the most fascinating in Italy if only for its incredible form. Construction began in 1240 by order of Emperor Frederick II of Swabia. The number eight must have been the inspiration for this castle, seeing as it recurs all throughout the structure: on the first two floors, eight rooms overlook an octagonal courtyard guarded by eight towers. The builders successfully blended several styles and influences—Romanesque, Classical, Gothic, and Muslim—together to make it a truly exceptional work of architecture.

A relatively short trip from Bari is Alberobello, a very interesting town that would make for a great day trip. Here, in the midst of the Itria Valley, can be found the highest concentration of a unique, ancient form of habitation: the Trulli. Trulli are cleverly constructed buildings with limestone walls and circular roofs topped with white cones. No one knows for sure why Trulli were built in the first place but there are plenty of theories, such as deforestation and large quantities of limestone. Trulli are such a distinctive mark of the region, of Italy even, that the United Nations has named Alberobello a World Heritage Site. Should a traveler have the urge to spend the night in one of these structures, there is actually a website that offers the opportunity to do just that:

For more information on Puglia, visit

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fruili Venezia Giulia

Fruili Venezia Giulia, a region at the most northwestern tip of Italy, borders Austria and Slovenia. The complete region seen today was not officially created until 1963 with some of the province of Trieste added in 1977. Before then, areas of the region belonged to Yugoslavia, and long ago, much of what is now Friuli (the shortened title that the region often goes by) was considered part of Austria. Though it has been solely Italy for over 40 years, strong Slavic and Austrian influences are apparent to this day.

In the southern lagoon of Fruili sits Grado, an island of luxury since Roman times. With its beautiful beaches and famous thermal spas, it would be easy to turn this island into a modernized sea resort, more like a party town. Still, Grado has managed to retain its old town charm with cobblestone streets lined with flowerboxes that are only accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists. Naturally, between May and September would be the best time to visit the island but it might be a good idea to wait to experience the first Sunday in July here. On this day each year, the town holds the Festa del Perdon (also called Perdòn di Barbana) where a series of elegantly decorated boats ride in procession to the island of Barbana until they reach the Marian sanctuary, a tradition they have acknowledged for hundreds of years.

A few miles north, inland of Grado is Aquileia, a small town famous in Roman times for its wealth and military expertise. Remains of the Roman Empire, including a Roman Forum, can be seen all over town and in the National Archeological Museum. Aside from all the Roman ruins, a true gem of Aquileia is the church, the Basilica of S. Maria Assunta. Construction of the building began in the 4th century. Though extreme makeovers have been done to the Basilica since then, some of the original is still apparent, like the intricate mosaics from the time that are still intact. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the crypt and the apse were frescoed, adding to the incredible beauty within the church.

For more information on the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, a great site to visit is the