Melfi is a town and comune in the Vulture area of the province of Potenza, in the Southern Italian region of Basilicata.
On a hill at the foot of Mount Vulture, Melfi is the most important town in Basilicata's Vulture, both as a tourist resort and economic centre.
Inhabited by the Daunians and Lucanians
, under the Romans
it was included in the area of the colony of Venusia
, founded in 291 BC. After the fall of Western Roman Empire
, Melfi gained importance in the Middle Ages
as a strategic point between areas controlled by the Byzantines and those controlled by the Lombards
. Melfi was captured several times by the struggling powers of the region, until it was assigned to the Norman leader William I of Hauteville
. The Hauteville family started from here their conquest of southern Italy, which, in the early 12th century, led to the creation of the Kingdom of Sicily
In 1059 Melfi became the capital of the Duchy of Apulia. Papal counciles were held in the city in the same year and in 1109, and in 1089 the First Crusade was summoned here.
In 1231, Emperor Frederick II proclaimed the Constitutions of Melfi (or Constitutiones Augustales) here, reinforcing control over his ever-expanding territory. He created a bureaucracy of paid officials, who among other things imposed a tax system on the local feudal rulers, who resented it but could not resist.
Later, the town shared the fate of the entire Kingdom of Naples, falling into a long period of decline, and suffering from a number of earthquakes.
The town enjoyed a revival of sorts from the beginning of the 19th century, and recently has gained additional prosperity when the Italian auto firm, FIAT, built a factory here.
The town winds along the Norman walls, with various gates, the most noteworthy being the Venosina
gate (dating to the early 13th century), an ogival arch with two cylindrical towers on either side.
Main attractions include:
- The Palazzo del Vescovado (Bishopric Palace), erected in the 11th century but rebuilt in baroque manner the 18th century.
- The Duomo (Cathedral), also in the baroque style but with the original Norman bell towers. The interior contains a magnificent 13th century fresco, the Madonna with Child and Angels.
- The Castle, dominating the whole town. It was probably constructed ex novo by the Normans (11th century), as no traces of pre-existing Byzantine or Lombards edifices have been found. Originally, it was probably a simple rectangle with square towers, with further towers defending the main gate. One of the main internal buildings was later (16th-18th centuries) turned into a baronal palace by enclosing the walls between the towers within new walls. Under the Angevine rule a new section was added one the slope descending to the Melfia stream, with several construction rising at different altitudes. The Castle was chosen by King Charles I's wife, Beatrice of Provence, as her residence. The Aragon kings gave it to the Caracciolo dynasty of the Caracciolo Candida family lineage (descendents of the House of Candia and the Caracciolo House), who rebuilt the side facing the city and dug a moat. Later it was a possession of the powerful House of Doria.
- Since 1976 the Castle is home to the important Museo Nazionale Archeologico Melfese, with artifacts found in the area, from prehistoric times and all periods of settlement including the Daunian, Samnite, Lucanian and Roman periods. The most famous piece is the sarcophagus of Rapolla, a valuable example of imperial sculpture from the 2nd century CE, which came to light in 1856. There are collections of the archaic era (7th-6th century BC) with male and female funerary objects including amber pendants and the so-called Lavello cup. Of the 5th and century BC are the Hellenic-style finds - red ceramic figures called figulae and other princely objects. There are also Samnite artifacts from the 5th-3rd century BC, mostly in ivory and bone, as well as examples of Canosino pottery.