Aliano and Carlo Levi

February 5, 2016 / Places
Aliano, Basilicata

Aliano seems to bask in its infamy. Seventy years ago it had been a typical peasant village in remote southern Basilicata, scraping to survive, and ignored and derided by Italy’s central government. It would have remained hidden and forgotten in its lunar-like hills had it not been paid a visit by destiny.

Aliano calanchi

When the Mussolini government wanted to silence the political writings and rabble-rousiing of a Jewish doctor and anti-Fascist named Carlo Levi, it could think of no punishment more severe than banishment from his northern city of Torino to the hinterlands of Basilicata, in Italy’s southern instep. Modern communications and northern news filtered very slowly- if at all- from there, so Levi and his inflammatory activism would be safely out of their dictatorial hair.

Levi arrived in Aliano to find an abject poverty in stark contrast of his prosperous home region, which seemed a world away. The remote locale was neglected and remained outside of time while resources were focused on northern industrial technologies and interests. Levi spent his year of political exile in Aliano under house arrest, acting as town physician while painting local scenes and characters, and taking detailed journalistic notes which he would use to write his well-known book, Christ Stopped at Eboli. From his stone house on the edge of the village, Levi observed, interacted with, tended to, painted, and chronicled the life, hardships, and contrasts of a place within his own country that was foreign to him.

Aliano

When he was released from his house arrest, Levi penned his most famous work which shed light on the political, economic and social problems of the south, and would eventually bring attention and change to the region. And the town of Aliano could not have been more grateful.

Today, Aliano is still small and still remote, but the appearance, well-being and status of the town are very different thanks to Levi, whose writings and presence continue to live on there. Many of the buildings have been spruced up and restructured, with more work obviously underway. The place looks tended to and cared for, unlike the descriptions of squalor that Levi chronicled upon his arrival.

Tourists from across Italy come on a sort of pilgrimage, clutching dog-eared copies of the book, and cars bearing license plates from other European countries are parked in the municipal lot.

Aliano has been designated a “literary park,” making it a sort of open-air museum. Plaques with quotes of Levi’s descriptions are affixed to buildings so visitors can tour the town and see it through his eyes and words.  The house of his internment has been preserved and turned into a museum containing documents and lithographs donated by Levi. Many of his paintings are on display in the Museo della Civilta` Contadina (Museum of Peasant Culture).

Aliano Levi tomb close

It was Carlo Levi’s request to be buried in Aliano and his grave lies in a panoramic spot in the cemetery up above the village. It is sprinkled with pebbles left by visitors to show how beloved he was.

Aliano is isolated on top of a hill with commanding views of the weirdly-eroded countryside and surrounding mountains. Aliano became “modern”, but the timelessness of their traditions and the splendor of their natural surroundings are unchanged. Nor is their affection for the man who served them so well and continues to impact their well-being.

Aliano Levi statue

Valerie Schneider

by Valerie Fortney- Schneider

Through her company My Bella Basilicata Valerie uses her tourism industry experience to offer travel planning and on-site genealogy research in the Basilicata region. She is a freelance writer with magazine and website articles to her credit, adores cappuccino, and is an enthusiastic cook.

Valerie Fortney-Schneider

18 Responses to “Aliano and Carlo Levi”

  1. Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Thanks for this beautiful note. When I read Levi’s book, somehow, despite years of living in Italy (Naples) I’d not understood the subject matter. It was an absolutely moving experience to read it and then to discover the extraordinary paintings online. I can quite see why Aliano reveres this brilliant man.

    Reply
    • Valerie Schneider

      I had to read it twice to fully appreciate its impact, too, and to realize how different Levi’s view of the world would have been coming from the industrial north. He was incredibly talented, not only as a writer but as a painter.

      Reply
  2. Marianna Raccuglia

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I remember reading his book and feeling a sense of
    Sadness and readiness.

    Reply
  3. Ann Waggoner

    Levi was a courageous man who made a lasting difference to Aliano and it’s poor, sad inhabitants. Christ Stopped at Eboli is a remarkable, life changing, book.

    Reply
  4. Carol Reed

    Wish you would have included some pictures of his paintings in this very interesting article.

    Reply
  5. Beautiful note – I have often wondered whether the area would draw tourists as a result of that book – very happy to learn that Levi was appreciated

    Reply
  6. Janet Eidem

    Thank you for the background information on Dr. Levi and the town which really exists. No wonder it now has a travel following. Think I’ll read the novel again!

    Reply
    • Yes, I read the book years ago and am inspired by this article to read it again. I remember when i went to look for the book at a Barnes and Noble it was in the religion section. ;\

      Reply
  7. Kim Abelman

    And I think the film does the town justice too. On a side note, it is Jewish tradition to lay a stone on the tomb. I need to look up the reason, but in a Jewish cemetery, all visiting Jews will place a stone on the grave.

    Reply
  8. Gian Banchero

    Please rent the movie Christ Stopped at Eboli, a beautifully haunting portrayal of Levi’s time in Aliano, I’m very happy that the beautiful city is being revived. The time capsule movie also well portrays the lives of our ancestors. I have the movie which I watch most every year. Just maybe the paintings shown at the start of the movie are his. Please see the film, it’s really transformative.

    Reply
  9. Ann m paolw

    My grandfather on my mother’s side was a Levi from that region I wonder if there is any family connection?

    Reply
  10. Josephcampagn

    I understood my parents somewhat,however,after reading the book twice in 10years what a hard life. They had both from Lucania,Castelmezzano,Pietrapertosa,ivisted there in1960. Where I did see poverty,and.many of descriptions CarloLevi wrote about of life in Lucania,I again visited again 1970 thru military assignment to close close by Greece,then as a. Old man. Last October 2015 sawMateraagain so. Many changes.Aproud desent of the south of Italy Cjc Campagna.

    Reply

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