Have you ever wondered how it would feel, in 2019, to dwell in an ancient cave, the same where your ancestors lived? No, I’m not trying to apply Plato’s teachings in the modern era, but instead I’m talking about something that really happens in one of the most wonderful places on earth: the beautiful city of Matera.
Spoiler: please be aware this article contains a high content of regional patriotism. Everything that I say is based on proves but… Yes, I love my homeland and I get emotional and nostalgic when I talk about it <3
First of all, let’s start saying that Matera is a small town, located in Basilicata, a very small region in the middle of Southern Italy, that unfortunately almost nobody knows because of its hostile territories and geographical isolation, and because of the closure that characterizes the personality of its inhabitants. We are so unknown that, a movie about our region (Basilicata coast to coast) starts exactly with this phrase by the narrator:
“Basilicata is like the concept of God: either you believe in it or not”.
Nonetheless, we are proud to have hosted significant historical figures as the caliber of Pythagoras, Frederick II and Rocco Papaleo (for the non-italians… well, actually also for the Italians… he’s the guy who plays the role of the narrator and protagonist in the movie).
So..where was I?
Oh sure, Matera, the pearl of Basilicata, has been elected the European capital of Culture of 2019, together with the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv.
How’s that possible then if neither the Italian Minister of Labour (guess who?) knows where it is – he thought Matera was in Puglia, the adjacent region, but that’s another story- ? Why didn’t they choose another city?
Well, we like to joke about our not-so-well-recognition, but actually there are many reasons behind this decision and the recent popularity of the city itself.
Inhabited since the Paleolithic age, Matera was chosen because of its millenary history (after Aleppo and Gerico it’s the third most ancient city in the world!), and especially because of its worldwide famous “Sassi”: ancient dwellings carved into the white rock which characterizes the landscape of this area, where people still live nowadays.
The Sassi were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, and since then they acquired more and more importance, together with the town which they’re part of. Their picturesque aspect makes the Sassi look like a perfect scenography for movies: Mel Gibson filmed here, in 2004, “The Passion of the Christ”; and the shooting for new James Bond film is going to be set this year in Matera as well.
The entire site embraces an area of more than 1000 hectares, and comprehends two districts: the so-called Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. The name of the former comes from the fact that its shape reminds of the “cavea” of an ancient Roman theatre, with the houses built on steps; while the latter is crossed by the ancient road that led to Bari, and it’s full of craved doors. Between them, the Rione Civita, with its wonderful Romanic cathedral emerges, overlooking the ancient town.
The whole area as such is sprinkled with narrow alleys, caved churches (with Byzantine frescoes), and artisanal shops that recreate the atmosphere that you could smell hundreds of years ago. Not to mention the typical restaurants, serving dishes coming from the rural agricultural tradition, such as pasta with crumb and “peperoni cruschi” (typical fried chilies) or the “pettole”, with their typical ring shape. It is possible to taste these delicacies in every corner of the Sassi, maybe walking around in a sunny day (the climate is very Mediterranean), admiring the sunset over the canyon.
This year will of course be full of events in Matera, with the city becoming an open air museum, hosting exhibitions in its ancient buildings, such as the one with the art works of Salvador Dalì on display at the caved church of San Nicola dei Greci, or also the workshop about Renaissance in Southern Italy, with original pieces that show the mutual influence with the Venetian art of the same period. But there won’t be only art of course: scientists, philosophers and authors are already moving to Matera and will remain here for a long period: Piergiorgio Odifreddi, one of the most famous Italian mathematicians, will focus on the revolutionary content of the teachings of Pythagoras, and many others will share their discoveries, contributing to foster the importance of culture.
Hence, this event is a unique opportunity, not only for the tourists that will visit Matera this year, but also for the city itself: from being the “Shame of Italy”, as it was defined in the 1950s because of its underdevelopment, to the consecration as pearl of the South, with thousands of visitors expected in the year of the definitive rebirth.
To inaugurate the event, a special delegation of students from Global Governance was sent there on the 29th December: here below you can see some photos of the official visiting ceremony.