The Basilicata region of Italy, with its secluded sunny locations shrouded in mystery and folk tradition, has provided through the years inspiration and ideas to countless writers, poets, visual artists and film makers. One of the most famous and best loved of such writers is Carlo Levi, author of the Italian literature classic Christ Stopped at Eboli (Cristo si è fermato a Eboli).
Levi was a politically engaged doctor, writer and talented painter originally from Turin in northern Italy. In 1935, Levi’s anti-fascist beliefs and political activism led to him being exiled by Mussolini’s fascist government to Basilicata, at the time considered the remotest area in southern Italy. What the government didn’t expect however, was that this ‘punishment’ would in fact become a positively life changing experience for Levi, who was welcomed with open arms by the people of the area.
Published in 1945 in memoir form, the book provides an intimate and affecting account of Levi’s time spent in the remote small villages of Grassano and Aliano (Levi changed the name of Aliano to ‘Gagliano’ in the book)- the latter can be seen in the distance from the Palazzo Rinaldi terrace. Our village Noepoli is also mentioned in the book, as is the nearby city of Matera.
The title of the book is an expression describing the local rural area as ‘ bypassed by Christianity, by morality, by history itself—(…) somehow excluded from the full human experience’ as Levi later explained. Eboli was the location in nearby Campania region where the road and railway branched away from the main north-south routes and headed further south into no-man’s-land.
The book is a great work of literature as well as a unique historical document, as it represents a snapshot of a region going through a particularly difficult time: isolated by the political classes, economically poor and riddled with malaria. While thankfully Basilicata is in a very different place today, at the same time many reflections Levi shares on aspects of the local culture are still very much alive today, such as its folk traditions, mysticism, dialect, superstitions and so on. Levi’s writing style effortlessly combines serious reflections with light hearted, personal and often funny anecdotes, making it an absorbing read.
Many visitors to the region, including our Resident artists, find the this book an invaluable introduction to this mysterious and still undiscovered region, and can easily relate to Levi’s point of view of ‘outsider looking in’.
If you needed further encouragement to pick up a copy of the book (in case you forget to pack it – we have a few at the Palazzo!) is that once here at Palazzo Rinaldi you will be able to visit Aliano and all the places where Levi lived and worked on his book, as well as his final resting place. Levi loved the village so much that, years after he had returned to live in the north, his last wish was to be buried back in Basilicata. His tomb is visited by writers from around the world, who traditionally leave small pebbles on its as a testimony of their visit.
In addition to retracing the steps of Carlo Levi and seeing through your own eyes the very street corners and locations he describes, you will also be able to view some of his painting, sketch works, photos and memorabilia, currently hosted in Aliano’s Carlo Levi Museum. Levi used painting as another form of ‘memoir’, capturing the friends and local characters he got to know with while in exile, once again providing us with an invaluable testimony of a historical time.