Craco Italy

Craco: The Abandoned Medieval Ghost Town of Italy

(Read the article on one page)

For nearly fifty years, the town of Craco in southern Italy has stood uninhabited. Here, dark windows look out at potential travelers like empty eye sockets and the streets and buildings of this medieval town seems to have literally been vacated overnight, left to crumble in decay.

Craco was once a monastic center, a feudal town and center of education with a university, castle, church, and plazas. Today, thanks to the dramatic landscape and unique atmosphere, Craco has been the set of many movies including Saving Grace , James Bond Quantum of Solace and the hanging of Judas scene in Mel Gibson’s the Passion of the Christ .

Craco: A Medieval Village with Ties to the Bronze Age

Craco is a former medieval village located in the earthquake-prone Basilicata region of Italy, about 40 km (27 miles) inland from the Gulf of Taranto at the instep of the “boot” of Italy.  The settlement occupies a rock formation above the surrounding hills with its architecture neatly built into the landscape. Perched strategically on top of a 400 meter (1,300 ft) high cliff, overlooking the arid countryside of southern Italy, this ghost town once provided panoramic views and warnings of potential attackers. The city was founded around 540 AD by Greeks who had moved inland from the coast of Basilicata. Back then Craco was called “Montedoro”. Tombs have been found here dating to the 8th century, which suggests that the original settlement dates back to the Iron age.

The first written account mentioning Craco dates back to 1060 AD, when the land was owned by Archbishop Arnaldo, Bishop of Tricarico. He called the area “GRACHIUM” which means "from the little plowed field." The oldest building of Craco, the Norman Tower, was built in 1040 and many of Craco’s buildings date back to medieval times.

Norman Tower, Craco, Itlay

Norman Tower, Craco, Itlay ( Michela R/Flickr )

From 1154 to 1168, the control of the village passed to “Eberto”, who established the first feudal control over the town. In 1179, Roberto di Pietrapertos became the ruler of Craco and in 1276 a university was established. It was during this period, that the landmark Castle Tower was built under the direction of Attendolo Sforza, and in 1293 under Federico II, it became a prison.

By the 15th century, four large plazas had developed in the town including the Palazzo Maronna, Palazzo Grossi, Palazzo Carbone and Palazzo Simonetti. 

The Rise and Fall of Craco

The population of Craco grew from 450 in 1277 to 2,590 in 1561, and averaged around 1,500 in succeeding centuries. The construction of the Monastery of St Peter in 1630 helped established a permanent monastic order. In an agricultural community built largely on the production of grain, oil, vegetables, wine and cotton, the monastery helped drive the economy through the introduction of science and religion.

However, in 1656 a plague struck Craco, killing hundreds and reducing the population significantly. Towards the end of the 19th century, the city reached its maximum expansion limits. A severe famine due to poor agricultural conditions caused a mass migration of Craco’s population, about 1,300 inhabitants, to North America between the years 1892 and 1922.

Since Craco was built on a hill, composed of clay-rich soil of various types of red, green and dark grey clay, with different levels of drainage the terrain was highly unstable.  This caused Craco to be affected by many landslides of natural origin, in 1600, 1805, 1857, and 1933.

Surviving for over a thousand years, the town survived the plagues and its share of thieves and bandits, but finally succumbed to natural disaster when landslides occurred during the 1950s up through the early 1970s.

Despite the precarious living conditions, many of the “Crachesi" (inhabitants of Craco) were still very much attached to their beautiful medieval town and refused to leave. In the 1950’s, the soil conditions of the town deteriorated further, causing more landslides and making the town and the buildings dangerous to live in. Periodic earthquakes were a secondary cause of destruction.

Ruins of Craco, Itlay

Ruins of Craco, Itlay, ( Wikimedia Commons )

In 1963, the last 1,800 residents were forced to leave Craco for their own safety and were relocated to Craco Peschiera, a new town in the valley below just a few kilometers away. For years, the displaced citizens were forced to live in tent cities and barracks as the government struggled to create housing options for the afflicted.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

The Achievement of the Grail.
Leah Tether works at the University of Bristol. She received funding for this research from Anglia Ruskin University, Ghent University, Somerville College, Oxford and the Stationers' Foundation. Type “Holy Grail” into Google and … well, you probably don’t need me to finish that sentence.

Human Origins

Kalash girls with traditional clothing.
The Kalash (known also as the Kalasha) are an indigenous people living in what is today Pakistan. Although Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, with more than 95% of its population being adherents of Islam, the Kalash hold on to their own religious beliefs, along with their own identity, way of life, and language.

Ancient Technology

10 Innovative Medieval Weapons: You Would Not Want To Be At The Sharp End Of These!
Long before modern warfare, there was a time of knights in shining armor atop equally armored horses fighting for the hand of a maiden or in pitched battle. However, the weapons that these knights wielded expanded far past that of an ordinary sword and shield.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article