Apulia and Basilicata, the remote regions constituting the ankle and heel of Italy at the crossing point of three seas, have been subject to waves of invasions by the Massapians, Spartans, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Saracens, Byzantines and Normans. Each culture has left its mark, whether in magical cave-cities, in grand fortified farms, or in magnificent Byzantine and Apulian Romanesque frescoed churches. Limestone country, Apulia is a plain of limestone pavement while Basilicata rises into spectacular dolomitic ranges of mountains in which thousands of caves were dug and inhabited until the Second World War. At the heart of Basilicata lies Matera, one of the most dramatic towns in all of Italy, the location for Mel Gibson’s controversial ‘Passion of the Christ’, dramatic base for our explorations.

The area’s geographical position gave it huge wealth from trading in oil, wine, almonds and wool with the Levant, wealth dedicated to the building of palaces and churches, and by the 11c Apulia’s Bari rivalled Venice in wealth and riches. Greek monks stored their medicines and potions in hollows in the caves of Massafra and lavishly frescoed other caves which had been carved out as churches. We have included special visits to the rock chapels, the ‘trulli’ of Alberobello, the rock settlements of Massafra, the Byzantine cave churches of Mottola, and the Basilica of St Nicholas in Bari, together with architectural walks in unspoilt Romanesque ancient towns. We study, in their original positions, major works of art by Cima da Conegliano, Tintoretto and Guercino. Mysteries abound in this region: dolmens, menhirs, the pagan rites of tarantismo, and the conical-hatted trulli, vernacular buildings built without mortar and used for everything from houses and barns to churches and taverns. They express the delight in picturesque drama of this most welcoming district of southern Italy, whose orecchiette, mushrooms, artichokes and long-renowned wine wait to refresh us after our explorations.

COST £2495 members, £2545 non-members, £195 single room supplement, £250 deposit, includes Alitalia flights London-Bari-London (with stopovers), six nights accommodation in Matera, all breakfasts, one light supper, two dinners with wine, two lunches, all lectures, the services of an english-speaking local guide, all entrance fees, all private minibus travel during the tour, all gratuities, VAT.