Home > Family > CRACO, ITALY: Abandoned Ghost Town, Medieval Village, The Town Nobody Heard Of … Home of My Paternal Grandparents


I recently took a step back in time and had the opportunity to visit the hallowed grounds of my paternal grandparents.

In 1890 my grandfather, Pietro Roccanova, left Naples seaport in third class steerage for the arduous trip to America. He settled on the lower east side of Manhattan and was eventually followed by my grandmother, Maria Latorraca, who stayed in a convent until they could be married in 1899.


Life was rough for them in America, too. Here, they settled in a 4-room tenement apartment. He worked as a shoemaker; she was the homemaker taking care of their 8 surviving (of 14) children.

I never knew them. He passed long before my birth and she 6 months after, but some of their history is legend among families who emigrated to the U.S. during that era – especially those from Southern Italy which was rife with poverty and all sorts of hardships.

Let me tell you about Craco.craco1

It’s a small commune about an hour’s drive from Matera in the province of Basilicata. Craco’s history dates back to 540AD when Greeks moved inland from the coast and created a settlement on a rock formation built high into the landscape above the surrounding hills.


It is said that the population grew from 450 in 1277 — to about 1800 in succeeding centuries. However, in the year 1656, a plague killed hundreds of people and reduced the population.

Then, later, in the 19th century, when the town reached its expansion limit and coupled with severe famine due to poor agricultural conditions, there was a mass migration of about 1300 inhabitants to North America between the years 1892 and 1922.

Over the years (centuries), Craco was an agricultural community that eventually created a monastic center, university, castle, church and plazas. A flourishing society existed and was enjoyed at some point in its history, as evidenced by the remains of this fresco … but it was not without undue hardship and strife that preceded and followed it.


It was particularly eye-opening to juxtapose the remains of a centuries’ old fresco with the remains of a not too distant in the past kitchen where people enjoyed their families and lives.


Though Craco suffered through many occupations and plagues, it was natural disaster* in the form of gradual and continued landslides from the 1950s-1970s (accompanied by periodic earthquakes) that eventually destroyed it completely.

In 1963, the last residents were forced to leave Craco for safety reasons and were ultimately relocated, although they had to live in tent cities for an extended period. Today, sadly, it remains abandoned, inhabitable and inaccessible to the public (except with permission — and hard hats!)


*Although no one died due to these geological occurrences, it’s been said that the real culprit was “human error” because the threat of landslides was known to scientists since 1910 and, due to political and ruling factors, proper measures were not taken to thwart it. Sad! Triste!

A few more photos here.

17 Comments, RSS

  • Norma

    says on:
    September 21, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    Eerie but yet beautiful. I can just imagine your feelings while approaching and then entering your ancestral’s home.

    A memory to reserve and to share.
    Norma recently posted..SCALLOPS, CHORIZO AND GARBANZO (CHICKPEA) PUREE –My Profile

    • Joan Nova

      says on:
      September 21, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Yes, it was a memorable experience — one that I’ll think about for years to come.

  • Valerie Harrison (Bellini)

    says on:
    September 21, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    What an amazing experience to walk the same streets as your ancestors Joan. Were you able to locate their exact residence? Even if that was not the case to walk back in time would have been an emotional experience.
    Valerie Harrison (Bellini) recently posted..Making Cinguli with the Locals in Calitri – the Italian Town You Dream OfMy Profile

    • Joan Nova

      says on:
      September 22, 2016 at 7:25 pm

      No, not their exact residence but it was enlightening to learn about and understand their experience.

  • anne gesualdo

    says on:
    September 21, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Joni, I wonder how you felt being in the place where your heritage began. It must have been a life ling experience. As you said you will carry this with you forever. I’m sure your really glad you made the decision to go.
    thankyou for sharing I enjoyed it.

    • Joan Nova

      says on:
      September 21, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Thanks Annie!

  • John Schneider

    says on:
    September 21, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    My wife and I have visited Craco twice in the last 5 years .
    It was great to visit the town where my grandmother grew up .
    My grandmother Angelina Conte Vitale was born and raised in Craco until age 19 .
    She married Vincent Vitale from Matera .
    He landed at Ellis Island in 1913
    Then went back to Craco the following year and married Angelina Conte . Came back to NY settled and raised their family in NYC
    I still have third cousins in Craco
    Ragone is the last name .

    • Joan Nova

      says on:
      September 21, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Very interesting. Thanks for commenting.

  • Patricia Durr

    says on:
    September 22, 2016 at 10:28 am

    Joan these photo’s are just amazing. I hope you post more of them because this is something only you can convey visually. Can’t wait to hear about your experience there and so glad you decided to take this adventure. If you post on FB I would like to share them with my family and friends.

    • Joan Nova

      says on:
      September 22, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Thanks Patricia. I did post a link on FB which you can find on my page — or just copy the url here.

  • Aurora Reyes

    says on:
    September 22, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Beautiful photos Joan. Great to see where the Roccanova side came from. Fantastic pic of your grandparents! Am waiting for fantastic food ideas gathered from your heritage homeland…..cousin Ra

  • Dorothy

    says on:
    September 22, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    The story of your grandparents just draws you in. The photos are so beautiful and so sad.

  • Debi Coursey

    says on:
    September 25, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Joan, the pictures are just marvelous. So poignant and full of memories of another time. Craco now is such a contrast to Grumento Nova and Moliterno, where Maria’s family was from. I cannot help but wonder what life in Craco would be like now if measures had been taken to save it.

    Thank you, again, for sharing your journey!

    • Joan Nova

      says on:
      September 26, 2016 at 9:21 am

      Thanks to YOU for doing all the preliminary research and setting the spark of interest to pursue the journey.

  • Liz

    says on:
    September 25, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Thank you for sharing this very personal, moving and informative travelogue. Your photography continues to capture so much whether it is detailed or panoramic.

  • Alice Peters

    says on:
    October 3, 2016 at 9:25 am

    What an amazing trip. I can’t imagine doing that myself but so glad you shared it. I’ve known you most of my life but never thought about our wonderful, varied backgrounds and what courage our ancestors showed in coming to a new country. The pictures as always are beautiful. Alice

    • Joan Nova

      says on:
      October 4, 2016 at 7:16 am

      Thanks Alice. It is kind of mind-blowing!

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