Those rich, melodic bars of music are the first that I can remember hearing as a child. But beyond the music, these first words left the most profound impression upon me. It invoked warm images of idyllic, sleepy towns in the Italian countryside; small clusters of brightly coloured stucco homes and terracotta tiles that playfully shimmer in the sunlight.
Only once I saw pictures of my family’s hometown with its fanciful, storybook setting, and the imaginings roused by this song, materialized into an actual, tangible place. Granted, the Italian countryside is well-known for its absurdly picturesque landscapes featuring countless small, quaint towns, but this was different. This was special, for this was my hometown, Muro Lucano. Situated in a rugged corner of Basilicata, Muro Lucano embodies the essence of the south: warm and inviting with an untouched, raw beauty.
An Ode to Muro Lucano
Poised atop a mountain ridge, some 600 meters above sea level, this commune lies about 50 kilometers northwest of the regional capital, Potenza. In antiquity, important fortifications surrounded a Roman encampment on the town’s current site. These walls would serve as the foundation of the town’s first structures and the origin of its name.
The 10th century saw the addition of a castle, which has become the most recognizable landmark of the town. This castle, perched above the town, has a commanding view of the breathtaking mountain landscape that surrounds it. Much too often, the history of the region has been mired by hardship. Some say that this mirrors the qualities of the rugged terrain.
An Ode to Muro Lucano
Even nature has branded the town. The area has been the victim of many devastating earthquakes over the centuries, making it hard for the region to develop. In 1705, Muro Lucano was almost completely destroyed by a powerful quake. More recently, the town was hit again in 1980, the repercussions of which can still be seen to this day through the ongoing reconstruction efforts. In recognition of the townspeople’s sacrifice and stalwart approach in dealing with the crisis, the town was awarded a citation in 2005 by the Italian government.
Yet, even under the constant threat of the next quake, the townspeople refuse to yield. For such intransigence they are rewarded. The town’s location in the foothills of the Apennines mountain range provides almost every house with a view of the rugged rural landscape; a rich, verdant beauty, which has remained mostly untouched throughout the centuries. Even viewed from the ravine below, the town seems to undulate over and around the crest of the mountain. The oldest section of the town, in the shadow of the castle, il Pianello, is filled with narrow pedestrian alleys and handsome, stucco homes, painted in vibrant pastels. Not even these narrow, cobbled streets can hide the rustic beauty of the town. Seen from above, the terracotta roofing tiles of this quarter appear to ripple and blend into one another, in soothing uniform patterns. The rest of the town spreads out from this older section following the relief of the mountain.
The centre of the town is located in the natural inward curvature of the mountainside. Here we find the main piazza, Piazza dei Monachi, and one of the half-dozen churches of this town of 6,000 inhabitants. Although small in size, this piazza does heighten the intimate qualities and close-knit nature of small town life. Numerous balconies from surrounding houses open up onto the piazza and it is not uncommon to hear neighbours conversing with one another between balconies and with those in the piazza below.
The appeal here is that there is no pretense, no false pride, accepting life in its purest form. Merely walking the piazza, this rural leitmotif seems to permeate the surroundings and one cannot help but become intoxicated by its affect. Here, time loses its conventional sense. If it was not for the regular chiming of the church bells to indicate the hours, one would easily get carried away by the charm of the town.
Refreshing mountain air and rocky vistas coupled with the simple life and coloured history serve to make Muro Lucano the embodiment of the town’s way of life in il Mezzogiorno. How many people can say an iconic song reminds them of their hometown? Muro Lucano’s uniqueness lies in its quiet humbleness, ensconced in a rugged, yet majestic shroud. A town, I’m proud to say, that is the foundation of my family’s origin.