Val Sarmento

In Basilicata, within some suggestive scenery of the Pollino National Park, there is a place where the continuous water flow creates an itinerary rich in culture, history and landscapes: the valley of Sarmento. Here, natural and artificial flows are intertwined; water courses intersect with one another and different cultures combine with each other in the daily life.
This scenery becomes the backdrop of contemporary art events thanks to the ambitious “Arte Pollino Un Altro Sud” project. The site was chosen by the artist Giuseppe Penone to create a one-of-a-kind artwork: the “Nature Theatre”, where nature becomes theatre itself.
The whole itinerary is permeated with a constant contamination between man and nature.
Our journey starts in Senise, from the privileged view point of the great barrier of Montecotugno artificial lake. The dam, built between the seventies and the eighties to supply water to Metaponto area and Puglia region, can contain over 500 million cubic metres of water and, thanks to its barrier of a lenght of almost 2 Km, is one of the most imposing earth-fill dam in Europe.

On the right bank, a scenic route, where visitors can walk or cycle, is immersed in orchards and vineyards. A bird observatory is surrounded by the Mediterranean vegetation, oaks and mastic trees. The building, built by the Pollino National Park’s managing body, is a study and research centre for the numerous species of the area: owls, herons, egrets, woodpeckers, blackbirds, real kites and crows. This charming location overlooks the surroundings and offers a wide panorama: a hermitage immersed in the silence of nature, which is in close contact with itself and men. The ancient road SS 92, through hairpin turns and old farms that guard rural memories, leads to the discovery of very different landscapes, a prelude for the Valley of Sarmento: the Timpe of Noepoli, known as the “small Canyon”.
The Timpa Forata, with its peculiar shape created by erosion of the atmospheric agents on sandy formations, stands out majestically. The landscape dominated by the Timpa is a border landscape, a boundary between two valleys: the valley of Sinni and the valley of Sarmento, which can be accessed through the old gallery of road SS 92, a true “photographic lens” that captures, as in a voluntary pose, the peak where the village of Noepoli stands. The ancient State of Noia, called in this way since 1500 with the advent of Fabrizio Pignatelli, belongs to a territory where settlements had already started in the 8th century BC. The town centre dates back to the 7th century.
Upstream of the village of Noepoli there is the panoramic view point of “La Torretta”, offering a wide panorama on the Sarmento valley, as a great natural stage. Downstream there is the river of Sarmento, chosen by Giuseppe Penone for his “Nature Theatre”. This point offers views on the natural water flow, which is branched and then joined again, creating a twist in the path that can be compared to the ‘twist of cultures’ that, over the centuries, has made the valley of Sarmento the cradle of different civilisations. The cultural identity that stands out the most is the Arbëreshë one.
Theatre: the place of representation
Representation becomes everyday life. Everyday life becomes representation.
We are in San Costantino Albanese and San Paolo Albanese, two tiny villages characterised by a strong and preserved identity linked to the Arbëreshë culture, brought by Albanians fleeing their homes in the second half of the 16th century. Their identity continues to resist to the erosive action of time and is displayed in the Museum of the Arbëreshë Civilisation, in San Paolo Albanese, and the Ethnic Museum of the Arbëreshë Culture in San Costantino Albanese.
A culture that protects its past, whose symbol is the traditional dress. The Arbëreshë community in the Valley of Sarmento has got strong bounds with the Greek-Byzantine rite; one of its important parts is the wedding ceremony, among the most interesting rituals of the Arbëreshë civilisation. The entire village becomes a ‘living museum’, a theatre where bewitching characters that seem to come from a faraway world, act.
The itinerary continues upwards: Terranova del Pollino, with its Timpa Delle Murge, where the history of human culture becomes even more ancient. The “Casa del Conte” is the ideal starting point to reach the Timpa: this area is rich in accommodation facilities, as it is very popular among tourists. Visitors receive a warm welcome and it’s still possible to enjoy an authentic family atmosphere. The place is only a prelude for the stunning spectacle of nature in Timpa Delle Murge, the last stop of our itinerary.
Travellers will have the chance to walk on pieces of oceanic crust, which formed millions of years ago. The landscape is varied, immersed in beautiful wild nature. Your sense of sight won’t be enough to enjoy this whole experience, which requires all the senses. It’s the ‘obvious’ ending to the journey that the tourist/actor makes along this route, taking with themselves the magic of the experience, the wonder of discovery and the spectacle of nature.