Situated on the northern-eastern side of Basilicata, the geographical area of “Melfese” is nestled between Apulia, Campania and the area around the city of Potenza, the regional capital. Here, mountains covered in chestnut and oak woods give way to plateaus dominated by olive groves, vineyards and stretches of scrubland, typical of the Mediterranean region.
The highest peak is Mount Vulture (1326 m), an extinct volcano that lies on tufa rocks and shale, and whose activity ended during the Pleistocene. Today, the ancient crater at the foot of the volcano is filled with two lakes known as “Monticchio Lakes”, very rich in minerals and crossed by an isthmus that houses the ruins of S. Ippolito Abbey.
The Nymphaea alba, also known as white lotus, with its characteristic white flower, grows spontaneously on the lake surface. Fauna is rich and includes hares, foxes, badgers and weasels. Looking up to the sky it is possible to see several birds of prey such as the buzzard, red kite and kestrel. Among the insects, it is worth mentioning the Brahmea europaea, a moth belonging to an eastern family. It is the sole species in this genus in Europe, and it was discovered in “Grotticelle di Monticchio”, near the village of Atella. A protected area has been established for this insect that can only be seen over a very short period in spring and whose chrysalis stage lasts about nine months, during which the pupa is hidden among moss and dead leaves.
The area has been inhabited since ancient times, as shown by fossil records found at the prehistoric site of Notachirico, near Venosa, and several other findings in the surroundings of Atella. Between the 5th and 4th century BC, several civilisations, such as the Daunians, the Peucetians, the Lucanians and the Samnites met and lived here until the Roman times, as beautifully shown by the archaeological findings kept at the Venosa Archaeological Park. In the Middle Ages, Melfi became more and more important and was nominated capital of the kingdom by the Normans. Then, in 1231, at the Castle of Melfi, Emperor Frederick II promulgated the Constitutions of Melfi, or Constitutiones Augustales, the most ancient legal code of the Middle Ages. Soon after the Italian unification, the area was brought again to the attention thanks to the development of Brigandage. Carmine Crocco, a brigand born in Rionero in Vulture, managed to form and lead an army of 2000 men, launching a warfare in Basilicata aiming at overthrowing the kingdom of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.
Today, this is one of the most dynamic areas of the region, rich in mineral water sources, grape vines for the production of the famous “Aglianico DOC” wine and olive groves where the “Ogliarola del Vulture” variety is grown and used to produce one of the region’s finest Extra Virgin Olive Oil (P.D.O). The area is also characterised by the presence of industries.