Parco Urbano dei Palmenti

Useful Information

Location: Via Luigi Cadorna, 94, 85016 Pietragalla PZ.
(40.74891, 15.8865)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SubterraneaCellar
Light: bring torch
Dimension: T=20 °C.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Pro Loco Pietragalla, Via Roma, Pietragalla, Tel: +39-370-145-6361. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1960s abandoned.


Parco Urbano dei Palmenti is a small patch of hillside at the eastern foot of the city Pietragalla. The cities in this hillcountry are Medieval forts, built on top of hills and easy to defend against Medieval marauders. This group of semi-subterranean houses, built from boulders without mortar, served as wine cellars for the inhabitants. They were dug into the hillside, and were covered by a layer of soil with gras growing on top. So they actually had the climate of a cellar. The cellars are called palmenti by the locals, and they were in use until the 1960s.

The word palmento has several meanings, but in the south connected with wine-making, it is a large vat dug out of rock or made with sides in brick or concrete. Such tanks were built to crush the grapes as well as for fermenting of the must. Such vats were used since ancient Greek and Roman eras until recently. But the word is also the name of a millstone, which was used to grind grain with two or four millstones. And it was used for the places where the grapes were crushed into wine. The grapes were smashed in a smaller vat, by workers with their feet. For this purpose there were sometimes iron rings at the ceiling, so they could hang onto as they stomped the grapes. The mash was then pumped into a larger tank where it was left to ferment for 15 to 20 days. Actually, it flowed naturally, the tanks were at different height and connected by tubes, so they just pulled the plug. After the fermentation the must was squeezed with a portable wine press to separate the liquid from the remains of the grape. If the grotto has a third tank, the wine was then put into this third tank for some time, before it was filled into a cask. There are small niches in the walls for the candles, to illuminate the workplace. The doorways all face south-southeast to take advantage of the sun. The temperature of the vats is over 20 °C during the autumn grape harvest, ideal for fermenting. Some have fireplaces, used to warm the must even more, to accelerate the fermentation process.

The palmenti are located between the vineyards and the old town, on the road. They were at a place which was of little value, they neither required the expensive construction of big cellars under the city, nor did they occupy fertile land. Also, the grapes are much heavier than the wine, so it was not necessary to transport the whole grapes uphill to the city. At the end of the fermentation step, the wine was brought up to the city on the backs of donkeys or mules in 35-liter barrels. Then it was transferred into wooden botte to be aged in the cellars. The cellars deep below the houses in the city had a temperature of 7 °C, which was much cooler than the palmenti and much better for aging.

Pietragalla was founded around the year 1,000. The medieval town has the Palazzo Ducale (ducal palace), which was originally a castle, and the church in the center. They are on the top of the hill, which is more than 900 m asl. From the center narrow streets radiate in all directions and end at the walls of the city. Despite the Medieval past, the most important historic event of the village was in the mid 19th century. The Siege of Pietragalla was a fight between the locals, called pietragallesi with the forces of Lucanian brigands and Bourbon volunteers headed by José Borjes and Carmine Crocco. After a long bloody fight, the brigands fled and shortly thereafter abandoned their mission to reconquer South Italy. If you are not Italian, you probably do not know about this history. It was the time of the brigantaggio, the Post-Unification Italian Brigandage. As a result of the risorgimento various states of the Italian Peninsula became a single state, the Kingdom of Italy. However, it was more like an annexation by the old Kingdom of Sardinia and not like a unification, and so many people started to rebel against the new order. They were called brigants, and fought for years, there were numerous struggles and fights, if you want to know more details, we recommend the Wikipedia page. Italy in its current state is actually a result of World War I, when it was on the side of winners and established its current boundaries.

However, the city is today located in the middle of nowhere. Although it is only 20 km from Potenza, the main highway runs further south. The only road through the city, the SS169, connects Potenza and Gravina in Puglia. The cellars are located on this road, just a few hundred meters out of town. We visited the site in 2001, and there was neither an explanatory sign, nor was it open to the public. But a few years ago images of the grottos hit social media, and they became quite popular. Today several of them are renovated and showed to visitors. The site is freely accessible, but all the cellars are closed. The cellars are frequently used during August for festivals and exhibitions.