Southern Italy Unfolded – Cultural Road Trip


Cultural Mapping Workshop

Food, arts, architecture, history, artists and interesting people. Coast to coast between Puglia and Basilicata.

In the spirit of a road trip, we travel from the Ionian to the Adriatic to see how elevation and landscape shape the arts, the food culture, and the people.

Photo credit Palazzo Appio

Photo credit Fondazione Zetema

Photo credit I Giardini di Pomona

It has been said the further you descend into southern Italy “the more Italy intensifies” – the sun heats up, the colour of tomatoes and fig flesh deepens, networks of families pour into the Piazza’s, while license is given to art and architecture to roam wild in the fields.

This a road trip that visits the family and culinary traditions of the southern regions, and a journey to map the current cultural climate.

Here, you want to slow down, to reflect and record, to photograph – the strong late afternoon shadows, soft sands and jade seas, the solitary iconic masserias and their low walls meant only to safeguard the sheep, the tarantella dances and the songs of the 5 o’clock swallows.  Here people watching is the passeggiata, brides and their dress trains, sheep crossings, and the calls of market vendors.

The Mezzogiorno, the southern belt of Italy, has produced the shepherd, the poet, and the lover of sun-drenched culinary delights and the liquid gold pressed from seas of olives.  The karstic landscape of the interior is an unexpected Eden that feeds its golden baked crops of durum grain, flowering almond trees whose buttery gems are encased in velvet like pods, and bitter greens that sing with their companions of fava and pasta. The three surrounding seas and its salty voiced fishermen bring a bounty of octopus, urchins, and alici to the table. Over centuries towns along the Roman road of the ancient Appian way, became pitstops, places of trades of stories and goods.  The carved limestone caves, provided respite from the heat, a place of pilgrimage, and reverent art.

Writer and artist Carlo Levi found a wealth of inspiration here- writing about the steadfast village women in black dresses who like guardians of the village entrance, would eventually warm to invite you for a family dinner. Levi painted the lives of the people of Matera and the cinematic language of Lucanian elevations.  Filmmakers continue to return to the south to capture its character and stories of migration.

Proposed Itinerary

In this workshop we begin in the interior of the Murgian plateau in the town of Gravina, ‘Grana dat et Vina” – the town that gives bread and wine (Fredrick II). The hill that rises above the ravine town, springs evidence of a cultural crossing of millennia. 

*After pick-ups, we’ll take a walk to the top of the archeological site of Botromagno for an excellent vantage point of the extending lands, historical overview, cold beers and focaccia, introduction to the workshop and each other.  Dinner on the bridge.

*Breakfast. In this land sheep and shepherds are king. You will learn how to make Puglian cheeses (pecorino, scamorza, mozzarella, burrata, ricotta); discussion on rennets and cave aging; “The Shepherds Life- Past and Present”. Explore and learn about the rupestrian Byzantine arts. Lunch. We walk through the ancient cave city of Matera (2019 European Capital of Culture, Unesco World heritage) and discuss its intriguing architecture and history. Optional: Carlo Levi exhibition or Archaeological Museum. Dinner in Osteria.

*Breakfast. Visit the Crypt of the Original Sin – the rupestrian cave of the unknown painter, affectionately referred to as the “flower painter”. We plunge deeper into south through the ravine carved landscape towards the clay Calanchi, of Basilicata to reach the abandoned town of Craco. Here amongst the matriarchs of the southern food culture, the Olive Trees,  learn how to – ‘’Distinguish Quality Olive Oil and Cultivars through Tasting and Talk”. Lunch. We head into the town of Bernalda above the ancient Greek colony of Metapontum for dinner.

*Breakfast. Wake up in a 19th-century palazzo, and take your morning cappuccino at Francis Ford Coppola’s Bar Cinecitta’ and a discussion on the “Approach to Conservation and Restoration of Historical Buildings and Sites”. Ionian sea for a swim and lunch on the beach. Back in Bernalda, young restauranteurs of this lively town of 12,000, will be opening their kitchen to cook a family style meal of regional specialties together, (like cruschi peppers, salsiccia di cinghiale, and homemade pasta) to share with locals. A young Puglian festival awarded filmmaker has nominated himself for an under the stars screening of his short Italian film, or set an outdoor theatre for local musicians – (many options here to think about)

*Breakfast. Travel east to the ateliers of the clay artisans of Grottaglie. Lunch. Into the fertile Itria Valley, we will meet Paolo a botanical conservator who has worked to create I Giardini di Pomona. Paolo will lead us through his living library of beauty composed of rare and historical fruit tree varieties of the Mediterranean. By sunset, we’ll land on the coastal Adriatic cliff town of Polignano a Mare to wander the photogenic town and find your own restaurant nestled into the narrow whitewashed alleys.

* Today is a day to roam this town and beaches on your own.  Meet us after lunch and siestas for a relaxing evening at the cove for swimming, people watching, drinks and preparation of a fresh and grilled seafood farewell dinner on the terrace of the fishermen house.

*Breakfast, departures to Bari.

Be prepared to approach and engage with spontaneous and interesting opportunities that may arise during the itinerary as we like to seek occasions for an authentic and significant cultural trip experience.

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