History and heritage around Altamura

There is a lot of history and heritage around Altamura, where foreign archaeology students and tourists can dig for treasures while they stay in an old masseria.


In the summer, masseria La Selva between Altamura and Matera buzz with activity. Students and travelers from all over the world spend their holidays in a beautifully authentic, south Italian farmhouse, while they take part in various volunteer projects or brush down skulls and bones or pottery shards and loom weights at nearby archeological sites.

– The archaeology students, who are mostly from Canada, work in two teams excavating an ancient burial ground and a Roman villa. We can’t get that kind of practical experience in North America, so it’s a great opportunity to come here. Even if it means going to work under the hot sun from 5 in the morning, one of the team leaders explains.

history and heritage around Altamura

Tonio Creanza

Two Dutch girls have signed up for an art restoration programme that also entails handy work and maintenance around the farm, and a couple of Irish girls help to look after twenty Italian children below the ages of ten who take part in La Selva’s English summer school. The programmes are organized by the cultural society Sinergie – now Messors – founded by the Italian-Canadian Tonio Creanza and  three colleagues from Altamura, and they are passionately enthusiastic. There’s a contant gesticulating and running around to prepare food, pick up this or that group of visitors and preparing outings and sightseeing trips to Pompeii, Altamura or nearby Jesce, where the consortium  did their first  large scale preservation and restoration project.

Jesce was a kind of Roman filling station on the Via Appia – a place where people and horses could feed, rest and exchange goods while being on the road. Basically it looks like a masseria or fortified farm surrounded by the characteristic stone walls constructed without the use of mortar. The Sinergie archaeologists spent several summers of hard work disassembling and reconstructing the 2000 year old walls, in what Tonio calls a sustainable restoration project, where all labour was free and nothing was added and nothing was taken from the site.

He cannot hide a certain bitterness against the local authorities who decided to bring in a ‘professional’ contractor halfway through the archeological project. The contractor paved most of the masseria grounds over with modern tiles, established electric uplights along the edges and fenced the whole place off, so we have to climb a two metre gate to have a look around. Tonio still has the keys to the building and can show us modern camp facilities such as bathrooms and dormitories mixed with crumbling Roman frescos. All to the benefit of about 50 swallows nesting in the corners and under the ceiling. It’s a crying shame and a waste of money.

But fortunately the people from Sinergie like Tonio and the archeology volunteers don’t give up but move on other projects that help to preserve history and heritage around Altamura.

history and heritage around Altamura

Jesce – an ancient tank stop on Via Appia. Now with modern paving.

More on history and heritage around Altamura

Trani Italy and the three-in-one cathedral

Cave towns in La Murgia

Matera: Italy’s first human dwellings

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9 replies
  1. Chelsey Landry
    Chelsey Landry says:

    Spent a few weeks this summer living at Masseria La Selva while working on an archaeology excavation of a roman villa just outside gravina. Tonio and all the people I spent time with during this summer were absolutely amazing… best experience of my life so far and i would strongly suggest people take the opportunity to feel like part of the family and stay at Masseria La Selva. Missing everyone I was lucky enough to meet, and hope all is well 🙂

  2. Adri
    Adri says:

    What a fascinating post, and what an intrepid group of volunteers. Pity about the contractor – but what do they call it…progress? I bet the volunteers enjoy the fantastic bread! Some say it is the best in the world.

  3. admin
    admin says:

    Hi Adri, You are right about the bread. It is excellent, and I think Tonio is planning to organize foodie holidays with special focus on pane di Altamura from next year.

  4. admin
    admin says:

    Hi Fran, Thanks for mentioning the Santuario. I hadn’t heard about it before, but judging from Internet photos it seems to be in quite good shape. I’ll try to drop by when I go to visit the Altamura man in the not too distant future:)


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