The Curse of Colobraro

Tales of newborns with two hearts and three lungs, suspicious sudden landslides and car accidents amid haunted ruins have led some to claim the Italian town of Colobraro in the Basilicata region is Europe’s most cursed.

Italians refuse to say its name and police will not punish visitors who speed down Colobraro’s roads in fear of being cursed. Neighboring towns in the Basilicata region simply call it “That Town” and residents avoid passing through Colobraro’s maze-like ruins.

The story of the curse is as old as the ancient town itself, linked to the origin of its name “coluber,” meaning serpent in Latin, believed to be the embodiment of evil. Although the town has always been feared, it is only in the first half of the 20th century that a lawyer and a witch are said to have brought the curse to life.

Legend has it that Biagio Virgilio, a resident of Colobraro, was a wealthy, fiery-eyed local attorney who never lost a case and had plenty of enemies. One day in court, to stress his point he exclaimed: “If what I say is false, may this chandelier come down!” Immediately, the chandelier came crashing down. Although no one was hurt, his name became synonymous with bad omens and put the hex on Colobraro’s reputation. Anything bad that happened was linked to Virgilio’s curse.


La Cattre, the supposed “witch” of Colobraro.

Later, an anthropologist visited Colobraro desperately searching for a “fattucchiera,” a sorceress to remove the evil eye. He believed the curse was caused by other people’s bad thoughts and by Virgilio’s spell. While wandering the town, the anthropologist bumped into “La Cattre,” a skinny sunburned elderly woman with deep wrinkles. He thought he had finally found the person he was looking for. But soon, he and his research team, fell victim to mysterious accidents and then decided to leave town for good.

From then on, Colobraro became known as a witches’ lair. Elena di Napoli, who is a descendant of “La Cattre” and in charge of the tourist board, said: “My great-great grandmother was not a witch. Just an old peasant lady who maybe had the looks of one.”

Across the decades, landslides, injuries and freak accidents, as well as stories of witches’ gatherings, have reinforced the superstition. However, the curse is said to affect only visitors of the town.

“Of course, considering my ancestry I am immune to the jinx,” Di Napoli said. “These spooky things only happen to people who come here for the first time in their lives and who believe in the omen.”

For many who live in Colobraro, it has been difficult to cope with the reputation. “We had no high school here so I had to go to Tursi village,” recalls Gaetano Virgallito, who now lives in Rome. “My classmates made fun of me the whole time calling me the ‘ill-omen bringer.’”

The curse is so deeply believed that police do not fine drivers speeding through the streets for fear of supernatural repercussions.

Actors perform a skit called “at the dead man's house” during Colobraro’s summer festival.

Actors perform a skit called “at the dead man’s house” during Colobraro’s summer festival.

To encourage tourism, each summer a festival is held where “jinx is turned into magic.” During the event called Night Dream at That Town, performers tell tales of magic, sorcery and star-crossed lovers. Good luck charms are sold at the entrance to the town to ward off evil spirits.

“We can turn jinx into magic,” Virgallito said. “Colobraro is a magical place, come here and you will understand why. It is perched atop the last hill before the sea and has a breathtaking panorama.”

“There’s nothing of evil here,” Virgallito continued. “All these weird stories stem from a wide-spread belief that we bring bad luck, but this is what other towns say because they have always envied us. And envy is always evil.”

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