Brienza is one of the few towns in Basilicata that has mostly preserved the architecture of the ancient medieval village (now uninhabited after the 1980 earthquake).
In Brienza you can visit one of the most interesting medieval villages in southern Italy. Its origins date back to the year 1000 when a first nucleus began to settle around the Castle, the fulcrum of the whole village.The village of Brienza is characterised by its centripetal winding model, with the natural fulcrum of the Caracciolo Castle itself, located at the top of a hill, from which a myriad of houses and cottages clinging to the steep rocky outcrop emerge.
Start of the tour
The visit to the village begins at the end of Via Mario Pagano, a few metres from Piazza del Sedile and the B&B La Voce del fiume, where one of the entrance gates was located in ancient times. From here, two small roads climb up the hill, Santa Maria on the left and San Michele dei Greci on the right. Further down, towards the river, the perimeter of the ancient Church of San Martino rises again, probably the first centre of worship of the "Burgentia Fidelis". To the north of the castle, the watchtower ("Trucedda" - turret) dominates the confluence of two streams (the Pergola and the Fiumicello).
A visit to the village of Brienza, abandoned after the earthquake in the 1980s, also includes a visit to the Chiesa Madre dell'Assunta, probably dating from the end of the 11th century and located on the slopes of the castle. The interior is divided into three naves (although originally there may have been only one), with a precious two-coloured high altar with gold decorations. In the left aisle there is a second altar, dated 1729, enriched by a palliotto with floral motifs. Of particular interest is the wooden choir from 1769 and the finely crafted choir stalls with an organ. On the baptismal font - a stone paved holy water font - the Caracciolo family coat of arms is carved.
After visiting the Chiesa Madre dell'Assunta, we continue uphill to the Caracciolo Castle.
The fortress was probably an ancient Aglian fortress, traces of which remain in the cylindrical donjon, which emerges from the massive mass, and in the circular semi-tower, located in the centre of the walls to interrupt the uniformity of the curtain and ensure a more effective defence. In the Middle Ages, it was protected, according to the method of Lombard fortifications, with the houses leaning against each other, providing a valid defence against possible enemy attacks. An open-air stone staircase leads to an embankment terrace in front of the main entrance. An ancient tradition attributes the castle with 365 rooms, one for each day of the year.
The Caracciolo family, through various ups and downs, remained the owners of the feud and the castle until 1857, when the last member of the family bequeathed it to a nephew. From this moment on, the slow decline of the manor began; in fact, on the death of the last heir, the fiefdom passed to various feudal lords and administrators who disposed of the rustic properties through a series of sales, leaving the castle (which was badly damaged in the 1857 earthquake) in a state of complete abandonment. The last owner, De Luca, finally donated it to a citizen of Brienza, Francesco Mastroberti, who began selling off what was left of the old building to support his 18 children in a town that had nothing else to offer.
The manor, which was declared of historical interest at the beginning of the 1900s, suffered the collapse of the east and south walls following the 1980 earthquake. Currently undergoing radical restoration, the original floors of numerous rooms have been brought to light and recovered, and various statues in local hard stone have been found, placed in the Town Hall, awaiting restoration. During the summer, the ancient village and the Castle are the setting and main subjects of numerous events and re-enactments, among the most important in the region, which continue to attract thousands of visitors.
The visit to Brienza continues with Piazza del Municipio, where the monument to Francesco Mario Pagano, a citizen of Brienza who lived in the 18th century and was a martyr to the Neapolitan Republic, stands. The Convent of the Frati Minori Osservanti (Friars Minor Observant), dating back to 1571, now houses the Town Hall, whose cloister has an important cycle of frescoes by Leonardo Giampietro of 1741 of the Michelangiolesca school.
The tour of Brienza ends with a visit to the Church of the Santissimo Crocifisso , above the town, from whose heights it is possible to admire not only the town of Brienza and the surrounding villages, but an entire area surrounded by woods and the Roverella , a centuries-old oak (estimated to be between four hundred and a thousand years old), located in one of the most evocative views of the Burgentino area, at an altitude of over 1,000 metres: it is one of the top twenty largest trees in Italy and it takes more than seven people to fully embrace it.