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The Ghost Town in the Heart of the Mediterranean: Craco, Italy

Petar Djajkovski

In the south of Italy, at the instep of the “boot” of the Apennine peninsula, lies the abandoned town of Craco. It’s beginnings as a settlement date back to the 8th century BC.

The area was first known as Montedoro and was mainly inhabited by Greeks who colonized the Mediterranean at the time. There are a lot of ancient ruins around the Mediterranean Sea, but this one has been completely abandoned quite recently, just 37 years ago in 1980.

The old town of Craco.Author:  Idéfix CC BY-SA 3.0

The old town of Craco.Author:  Idéfix CC BY-SA 3.0

Craco from above

Craco from above

The town’s name is first mentioned around 1060 AD. At this time, the land was under the possession of Arnaldo, Archbishop of Tricarico. He called the area Graculum, meaning “little-plowed field” in Latin. Craco fell under the control of a nobleman of Norman origin who established feudal control. At this time, Craco became an important military center and the Castle Tower was used as a prison.

Ruins of Craco.Author:  Idéfix CC BY-SA 3.0

Ruins of Craco.Author:  Idéfix CC BY-SA 3.0

Street of Craco. Author: Andrea Tomassi CC BY-SA 2.0

Street of Craco. Author: Andrea Tomassi CC BY-SA 2.0

Craco continued to grow and develop in the spirit of the time and in 1276 a university was established. In the next three centuries, the population started to grow and with it the town itself.

By the 15th century, four large palaces (palazzi) had been built in the town: Palazzo Maronna, Palazzo Grossi, Palazzo Carbone and Palazzo Simonetti. Being close to the sea and a popular town at the time, it didn’t escape the great plague of the 17th century. Many people died and the number of families was reduced by half.

Balcony in Craco. Author: Ivo Spadone CC BY 2.0

Balcony in Craco. Author: Ivo Spadone CC BY 2.0

 

Craco built on rocks. Author: Martin de Lusenet CC BY 2.0

Craco built on rocks. Author: Martin de Lusenet CC BY 2.0

By 1800, the town has suffered a lot of different regimes and rulers. Numerous feudal lords claimed and lost it. It was part of the Parhenopean Republic, then an independent municipality which lasted only a few months. And again, it fell back into the hands of the Bourbon monarchy.

The great Napoleon occupied it afterward, just to be overthrown again by the supporters of the Bourbon government-in-exile. By 1815, the town was large enough to be divided into two districts.

Ghost town Craco. Author: Antonietta CC BY-SA 2.0

Ghost town Craco. Author: Antonietta CC BY-SA 2.0

After all the wars and political battles fought for and in Craco, the biggest blow came at the turn of the 19th century. Between 1890 and 1920, many people migrated to North America due to poor agricultural conditions and poverty.

In 1963, a landslide threatened the town, and its inhabitants had to be relocated. The landslide was provoked by bad infrastructure, mainly sewer and water systems. After that, a flood worsened the situation, making it almost impossible for the town to be repopulated. And at the end, there was an earthquake in 1980 after which the ancient town of Craco was completely abandoned.

Craco, black and white. Author: Mauro Cacciola CC BY 2.0

Craco, black and white. Author: Mauro Cacciola CC BY 2.0

 

The Basilica in black and white. Author: Luca Roccotiello CC BY-SA 2.0

The Basilica in black and white. Author: Luca Roccotiello CC BY-SA 2.0

Numerous big movies were filmed in this abandoned Mediterranean ghost town. These are some of the great names of that list: La Lupa (1953) by Alberto Lattuada, Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979) and Three Brothers (1981) by Francesco Rosi, The Nymph (1996) by Lina Wertmüller, and Quantum of Solace (2008) by Marc Forster.