At 4:00, we were back at the hotel waiting for our guide. Pasquale Ortenzio arrived promptly on the hour. So far for this trip, he was Pasquale number three.
Undaunted by the heat of late afternoon, Pasquale walked fast, but paused several times to point out important spots. He knew the history of this entire area inside and out and spoke English well.
No matter how many times I saw this, I couldn’t believe it was real. We did run into other interesting things, though.
We walked to a point off Piazza Vittorio Veneto which overlooked the entire bowl of the Sasso Barisano. Also in the piazza was evidence of a developing archaeological site. Pasquale told us that if we return in a few years, we’ll see a great difference in the town. It will have been developed for tourism, he said, but will absolutely retain its original atmosphere and magic. I hope he’s right.
Passing through an obscure arch, we found ourselves entering a completely different valley, also peppered with caves. This was Sasso Caveoso. It felt different than the other side. I was immediately stricken with awe. As we wandered the tiny pathways peering into the cool, dark depths of the caves, it gave me chills, but only from utter wonder. (I will tell you about Sasso Caveoso a bit later.)
Pasquale took us to Casa Grotta di vico Solitario, a cave home, now a living museum, that has been set up with furniture and tools exactly as it had been when this area was still inhabited. Everyone, including animals, lived together in one large cave room with an alcove or two for a cooking area.
Churches, too, were hewn from the stones. Pasquale showed us how to differentiate between the Greek and Byzantine religious artwork covering the walls. The clue was how the raised fingers of Jesus were depicted. If there were two, it was Byzantine; if there were three, it was Greek. We saw frescoes with both.
He brought us into the large cave church of S. Lucia alle Malve, dating from the 8th century. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside. After admiring the interior, we scrabbled up to the roof of the church where he pointed out pebble-covered tombs. This rock slab was also an ancient cemetery, circa 8th century B.C.E., existing on the top of the church!
After our tour with Pasquale, Gino and I wandered alone awhile, but the light was beginning to fade. We’d return the next day with the morning light.
Before leaving us, Pasquale had suggested a couple of places where we could enjoy authentic traditional food. Later that night, we found one of them: Osteria La Stalla.
Several tables were sprinkled on a cobbled outdoor patio and we sank into chairs at one of them, grateful to have finally arrived after a frustrating search.
It was here that I had my first taste of Fave e Cicorie, a bowl of savory pureed fava beans adorned with a mound of boiled wild chicory, drizzled with some flavorful, local olive oil. It may sound odd, but believe me this Puglian “peasant” dish was fit for a queen (me!).