Located in the Matera province of Italy, the town of Craco is a highly peculiar place. It is on a cliffside, towering over the nearby plateau, and was once a busy center of education, commerce, and entertainment. However, thousands of years of infrastructural weight finally took its toll on the soil in the 1960s.
While some of the buildings of Craco we see today date back to at least the 1060s, the town’s history is older than that. Archeologists revealed the existence of tombs below Craco that belong to the 8th century BC. Therefore, Craco can be considered an ancient town, one of the oldest in Europe, in fact.
In the 11th century, the town was under the control of Archibishop Arnoldo who named the area as well. For a long time, the town and the church were associated with each other which affected the locals socially and culturally. The following century saw Craco become more and more important.
During the war between Frederick II and the Lombard League, the town proved itself to be a crucial defensive site. Craco served both as a fortress and prison for the Lombard members and soldiers.
In the aftermath of the war, Craco continued to prosper. The town even had a university, one of the firsts in the world, in the 13th century and the population peaked in the following years. However, due to a series of conflicts and wars, the town found itself in disarray until the late 19th century.
A new problem surfaced for Craco at the beginning of the 20th century as well. During that time, there was a wave of immigration to the United States and the locals were no exception. Similar to the thousands who left Italy, nearly half of Craco left for the US as well, leaving the town almost deserted.
The real crushing blow for the town came in the 60s. The weight of the buildings on the cliffside started causing dangerous landslides. Although people did not want to leave at first, they had no choice but to abandon their homes. Most of the people moved to the valley below the cliff and tried to start a new life.
In 1980, after the Irpinia Earthquake, no one was left in the town, Craco had truly become a ghost town. While the town is still not hospitable, it has become a popular attraction. There are many tours that take people to see the town. Moreover, the descendants of the locals have started an organization to protect the authenticity of Craco as best as they can.