Italian villages: Acerenza, Basilicata
Article by Italian Heart
The Oscans, who were among the first Lucanian tribes, occupied the uplands of Basilicata, including the place that they called “Akere”, later ”Acherutia”.
The Latin poet Horace mentioned it as “Acherontia”, bringing the name back to its true origin and its true meaning of “high place”.
In Acerenza, enjoying a glass of Aglianico is a must. A full-bodied red wine for medium to long aging, it has a ruby red color with garnet overtones, and a delicate bouquet of berries, with hints of vanilla and wood, if aged in barriques, or of leather and tar if aged for a long time. The flavor is dry and harmonious, and tends to become velvety with aging.
Other treats from the area include the typical sausage and Acerenza headcheese (the meat is still cut “with a knife”), the durum wheat bread, and an excellent extra virgin olive oil.
Standouts among the traditional pasta dishes are the maccaroun a desct (handmade pasta with a meat sauce or combined with legumes) and the z’zridd (small-sized pasta with beans or lentils).
Lagana chiappout is a sweet made with lagane (pasta made by hand using durum wheat flour) and spiced with cinnamon, walnuts, and almonds, and flavored at the end with cooked wine.
Perched on a cliff of tuff more than 800 meters above sea level, between the broad Bradano river valley and the Fiumarella stream, it is truly the caelsae nidum Acherontiae, the “eagle’s nest of Acerenza” described by the Latin poet Horace, born in nearby Venosa.
The layout of the town is that of the typical medieval walled village. The imposing 11th-century Cathedral, in a Romanesque-Cluniacensian style and dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Canio, towers above the rest of the village skyline.
The wonderful portal, where humans and animals are monstrously intertwined, is pure Romanesque. And truly, by going around it through the narrow streets and the terraces with beautiful views of the gentle hills, the Cathedral unveils its first treasures: set here and there among the millenary stones are marbles from Roman times, figures carved into tombstones worn by time, and Greek columns.
Leaving the cathedral, after admiring the 16th-century former court building, which stands out for its beautiful Mediterranean romanella, one may stroll through the tiny streets of the historic center and linger before the impressive 18th-century aristocratic residences, with their stone doorways, embellished with simple sculptures or the coats of arms of venerable Acerenza families.
Facing Largo Gianturco is the old Curia building, which occupies part of the old Lombard-Norman-Suevian castle, partially rebuilt in the 1950s. Near the San Canio gate is the 18th-century Palazzo Gala, with a romanella cornice and portals in carved stone. Opposite stands the noble San Vincenzo chapel, also from the 18th century, with a stucco-decorated cross vault.