Defined as one of the most beautiful hamlets of Italy by “I borghi più belli d’Italia”, an association that promotes small villages that can be considered relevant and interesting from a historical and artistic point of view, Acerenza is in the Province of Potenza.
How to reach it
As I explained in other posts, the best way to reach and discover Basilicata is by car, as public transport between villages might be a little difficult here.
Perched on a plateau, at 833 m above the sea level, Acerenza is known as “Città Cattedrale”, the Cathedral City, for the impressive Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and San Canio.
The first thing to do here, is to park near the ancient centre and head up until the Cathedral. You will discover quiet streets dotted with little shops and workshops. Here you can stop at the bakery for some fresh pastry or some handmade biscuits.
As soon as you reach the upper part of the village, you will stumble into the Cathedral. Here the entrance is free and you do not need to book.
Built on a pagan temple and a Roman church, the building is in Romanesque style and the construction started in the 11th century.
Crypt and campanile belong to the 16th century and two incredible stories add mistery to this colossal structure.
The legend of San Canio’s Rod
An ancient stone altar protects the Pastoral rod of Saint Canio. San Canio, a bishop in Africa, was imprisoned and tortured and sentenced to death in 292 A.D. While going to the scaffold, strange atmospheric phenomena started hitting the area so that the Prefect decided to let him go. With the help of angels, he arrived in Campania, the region of Naples, were many were the miracles he was able to make.
When he died, he was first buried in Aversa and then moved to Acerenza.
The Bishop of that time hid his mortal remains but left his rod visible. From that moment, visitors have seen the Rod moving and changing position. It seems that only those who have confessed their sins can touch the Rod.
Fear not, today you cannot prove you are not a sinner as the rod is protected with a plexiglass!
That weird connection with Dracula
The second legend is connected to Maria Balsa, a woman who married the Count Ferrillo of Acerenza and whose origins where rooted in Serbia and Rumania. The legend says she was the daughter of Count Dracula. Believe it or not, but on the façade, renovated in the 16th century, there is the coat of arms depicting a Dragon, which, in that period, belonged to the House of Count Vlad III! Luckily you do not have to wear a necklace of garlic to visit the area, even if it would have been funny!
Behind the Cathedral there is an amazing belvedere that overlooks fields and villages. It is like a velvety patchwork blanket that changes its colours according to the season.
Here, outside the Church, you might meet people chatting or playing cards. Life in South Italy still develops outside houses and in the streets elderlies and children find their daily playground.
You can descend the medieval village take a walk along the artificial lake.
I decided to hug Alpacas. Here, in fact, there is a beautiful and unusual farm where Alpacas live and teach visitors the art of kindness. But this is definitely another story.
20 km far from Acerenza there is Pietragalla with its Palmenti or, as I love to define it: the Italian Hobbit village.
In a world full of witches and magic creatures, where Count Dracula leaves far far away and doesn’t transform people into vampires, Italy would be full of dwarfs and tiny fairies. And Palmenti would be their cute homes.
No hobbits in Pietragalla…
But reality sometimes is better than imagination. These structures were in fact home to wine and oil bottles.
The village of Pietragalla hosts some 200 Palmenti carved in the rock and dating back to the 14th century. Today they are empty, but sometimes it is possible to visit them.
…but food for sure!
Pietragalla is worth a visit, even for few hours. You can take a photo at the Palmenti or enter a bakery to buy the biscuits traditionally prepared with honey or “vincotto”, cooked wine, traditional delicacies prepared for wedding receptions.