The most important mountains are Volturino, 2005 m, and Sirino, 1835 m. Among the rivers are the Gravida, Bradano, Basento, Cavone, Agri, Sinni; the lakes are San Giuliano, Lake of Pietra del Petrusillo and Lake of Abate Atonia.
The region, due to massive emigration in the past, is underpopulated, especially in the Eastern and central areas. The economy is mostly based on agriculture; industrial development is low, though there are some flourishing crafts sectors, such as ceramics, woodwork and textiles. A great promise and hope is tourism, mostly along the Thyrrenian coast.
Archeological findings show that the areas of the rivers were inhabited since Paleolithic times. In the 13th century BC the Lyki (probably at the origin of the name Lucani), coming from the Danube area, settled in the region and in the following century were greatly enriched culturally by the the Greeks, who colonized the region in the 8th century BC, who founded at the mouths of the largest rivers the cities of Metaponto, Heraclea, Posidonia.
The Lucani established a strong military state and fought against the inhabitants of Apulia for long centuries. After being allied to the Romans, they sided with Hannibal in the Punic wars. Under the Empire the region was called Bruttium, then between 1932 and 1945 was renamed Lucania, to become finally "Basilicata" under the Republic.
The feudal model and the condition of acute isolation has unfortunately remained unchanged for centuries, with an economy based on non-intensive agriculture, open fields, typical of mountain areas, and pastures linked to transhumance.
With the unification of Italy the poor, backward economy of the Basilicata showed no signs of change, but in some ways got worse. The unity of Italy with the opening of trade barriers favored the most industrialized regions of the North, and led to economic impoverishment of the already weak productive activities of the South. Backwardness became underdevelopment: the liberal and conservative politics implemented a fiscal drain that gave the South the role of consumer of what Northern industry produced.
The "silent revolution" of emigration reduced the already small communities, keeping the economy poor and backward, and depriving domestic industry of any value. The situation did not change in the fascist era, since the political vision of fascism wanted an agricultural south (maintaining the territory in the hands of large land-owners) and an industrial north (with a wealthy bourgeoisie assisted by the State).
After the Second World War the birth of the Republican State and the social struggles for the land led to a different political context with important new policies in various areas, such as:
- Environmental: hydrogeological works on the river beds, reforestation of hills and mountains; elimination of malaria in the plains; irrigation networks
- Socio-economic: land reform, retraining of agricultural labourers, higher levels of education
- Urban planning: setting up industrial hubs especially in the chemical industry.
The emergence of new socio-economic realities started to reverse the age-old subordination of the region, pursuing a territorial design based on "development lines": to equip the region with a longitudinal infrastructure, following the valleys of five rivers from the more developed coast into the inner mountains.
The challenge was to create a new urban structure in the valleys able to stand the pace of the "post-industrial" era in a partly still feudal economic framework. The State Road Basentana was built, connecting Potenza and the Salerno-Reggio Calabria to Metaponto and to State road 106 Taranto- Sibari, and along the new roads a modern industrial area especially in the chemical sector started to develop. This new situation, however, has further marginalized the small communities of inner Basilicata.