The territory of the Apennine Lucano-Val d’Agri-Lagonegrese National Park comprises some major mountain passes and the natural communication path of the valley of the River Agri. It boasts a very ancient, anthropic occupation and as a result of its unusual position it has always been a meeting place of populations with different cultures and traditions. Man’s presence has been ascertained between the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age, as documented by the finds in the cave of Latronico and more generally along the Ionian coastal strip.
During the age of Augustus, there were signs of recovery, as shown by the rural settlements: the resulting villa system left important traces throughout the region. Nevertheless, the area was to remain isolated and the main towns gradually lost their ancient splendour, leaving the region in a constant state of abandon until late Antiquity. Not by chance did Alarico plunder the area of Potenza in 402 and, in the following century, it was annexed by the Longobards to the Duchy of Benevento and then to the Principality of Salerno.
Basilicata played a major role in the first half of the 11th century, when Melfi became the capital of the Norman state. Under the rule of the Angevins, the conditions of the region worsened still further, also as a result of a massive phenomenon of depopulation. Plagues, famines, earthquakes and wars exacerbated the demographic situation over the following centuries.
Later, this area became part of the Neapolitan Republic and fought against the Napoleonic armies. It fell under Bourbon rule until the Unity of Italy.
Towns of historic importance include Brienza (Burguntia or Burgentia), probably founded by the Longobards in the 7th century. The town was dominated by the imposing ruins of the Angevin castle, or Castello Caracciolo, restored in 1571, around which the mediaeval town wound its way. Some buildings of worship preserving frescoes and canvases of great artistic importance can be visited in the town.
Marsico Nuovo is an agricultural town overlooking the Agri valley. Founded by the Marsi in the 6th-5th century BC (Abellinum Marsicum), it was an ancient gastaldate, a county under the Longobards and Episcopal see. At the top of the town stands the church of San Michele Arcangelo, the first cathedral in the town, with a 13th century stone door decorated with leaves and flowers. In front of this stands the 12th century Church of San Gianuario, with characteristic door posts, decorated with anthropomorphic bas-reliefs.
Standing high up dominated by the peak of Mount San Enoc on the western ridge of the upper Val d’Agri is Viggiano, the ancient pagus of Grumentum, which derives its name from the Roman lord, Vibius. Fortified in the 10th century by the Longobards, ancient Bizzano took part in the Ghibelline revolt of 1268 and was the fiefdom of Giovanni Pipino at the beginning of the 14th century. Large stretches of walls and parts of the side towers remain of the feudal castle, destroyed by an earthquake in 1857.