Melfi, Province of Potenza, Basilicata

The town, today an important agricultural, commercial and industrial center, stands on top of a hill at the foot of Mount Vulture, a prehistoric volcano. Its structure is medieval, with an irregular layout of narrow streets enclosed by the Norman walls.


  • Altitude: 531 m a.s.l
  • Population: about 16,000 inhabitants
  • Zip/postal code: 85025
  • Dialing Area Code: +39 0972
  • Frazioni: Foggiano, Foggianello, San Giorgio, Leonessa, San Nicola
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Provinces of Basilicata
Basilicata region
Matera | Potenza


It has an illustrious past, having been the favored residence of the Norman kings and then of Frederick II the Great, as well as the place where important church councils were held.

There was a Neolithic settlement in the area, as shown by items and excavation in the necropolis of Valleverde, Chiuchiari, Pisciolo and Leonessa. A Lombard historian, Erchempert, said it was founded by Roman knights that during their travels to Byzanthium were obliged to stop in the area. In the 11th century it was chosen by the Normans as their capital, and in 1059 Pope Nicolas II held a council in Melfi granting to Robert Guiscard the title of Defender of the Faith. Other four councils were held there in the following centuries.

The town was conquered by the Swabians in 1196. Emperor Frederick II ordered a reconstruction and in 1221 there was a 6th Council in Melfi, with the presence also of the emperor. In 1230 Frederick encharged his councilor Pier Delle Vigne to prepare new laws, which came to be known as the "Costitutiones Melphitane" and were the most complete law treaties of the Middle Ages. In 1266 Melfi was occupied by the Angevins after Manfred, the emperor's son, was defeated in Benevento.

In 1333 the town lost its independence and became a feudal possession of Nicolò Acciaiuoli, then had other feudal lords, among them Marziano di Ascoli, in 1418 Giovanni Caracciolo, prince Filibert of Orleans, then was donated by Charles V in the 16th century to Andrea Doria, whose heirs kept it until the abolition of the feudal system in 1806. The Doria family then donated the castle to the Superintendence to the Arts of Bari after WW2.

What to see

  • The imposing Norman castle, dominating the town, with polygonal towers; it was renovated several times and now houses the Museo Archeologico Nazionale del Melfese, with sections of the archaic period (7th century BC), Greek, Roman and Etruscan; in a tower there is the splendid Rapolla sarcophagus, one of the main examples of Asian art of the 2nd century BC.
  • The Duomo - Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta - has a magnificent bell tower, the work of one Noslo di Remerio as written in an inscription of the basement dated 1153, with double lancet windows and decorations in white and gray volcanic lava stone, about 50 m high. On the two sides of the upper windows are two lions in black lava stone, the symbol of the Sicilian Normans. The transept was added in 1472 and after the 1694 earthquake the facade was remade in the Baroque style. Inside there are works of different periods from the history of Melfi: a wooden choir of the 16th century, a pulpit and organ of the mid-18th, and frescoes by Miglionico representing the four triumphs of San Gennaro, the Assunta, Sant'Antonio of Padova and Sant'Alessandro, the patron of the town.

Where to stay