Matera, European Capital of Culture: Open Future!
Don’t know where to go for your holidays? Why not head to southern Italy, to Matera, the 2019 European Capital of Culture? A title that announces the redemption of this town that was the “shame” of its country in the 1950s, owing to its extreme poverty. With the slogan “Open future,” this thousand-year-old town, for too long forgotten, is today resolutely turned to the future and open to the world. The story of a resurrection.
Nestled in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, Matera (60,000 inhabitants today) is considered to be the third-oldest inhabited town in the world after Aleppo (Syria) and Jericho (West Bank). The town is nicknamed the “Jerusalem of the West”: its troglodyte houses, or « Sassi » (rocks in Italian), including 130 churches decorated with rupestrian paintings, create a picturesque open-air Nativity scene. But this unique site, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993, very nearly fell into oblivion.
A painful past
In the 1950s, the poorest inhabitants lived in cramped conditions in these squalid caves, with neither electricity nor running water. The misery of Matera, described by Carlo Levi in his novel Christ Stopped at Eboli as early as 1945, became front-page news when the daily Corriere de la Serra, describing the visit by the Prime Minister, referred to Matera and its Sassi as the “shame of a nation”. This sudden awareness led to a vast State-backed program to rehouse the inhabitants in new districts around the periphery of Matera. Some 17,000 people were thus displaced, or about half of the town.
“We have gone from ignominy to glory”
Raffaello De Ruggieri, Mayor of Matera
An economic and tourism miracle
The Sassi were abandoned for a quarter of a century: the families wanted to forget a shameful past, while the young left to work in the North of the country.
Thanks to the efforts of a few locals attached to their heritage, the lengthy work of redevelopment and restoration began, with the support of the public authorities. These efforts finally paid off, with the town being classified a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, marking the starting point on a journey to world fame.
At the same time, investors, convinced of the tourism potential of Matera, began to rehabilitate the abandoned Sassi. The postcard gradually took on fresh colours: the rehabilitated Sassi became arts and craft shops, café-restaurants or luxury B&Bs, further adding to the attractiveness of the town. Success at last: In 2018, Matera welcomed 500,000 visitors, three times more than in 2010!
Openness and innovation
Selecting Matera as a European Capital of Culture is the ultimate recognition of this engagement with tourism, synonymous with opening up to the world, and this desire to turn to the future without rejecting the past.
Exhibitions, concerts, cultural circuits, conferences… Hundreds of events are planned, with the watchword being Open Future, comprising five main themes: Ancient Future explores humans’ relationship with space and the stars. Continuity & Disruption looks at our relationship with modernity, inequality and the migrant crisis. Reflection & Connections is an invitation to consider the value of time. Utopias & Dystopias looks back at the history of Matera. Finally, Roots & Routes examines the tradition of mobility within Europe. The format of this year of culture aims to be innovative and collaborative: the inhabitants are asked to help set the stage (illumination of facades using candles, creation of flower gardens, etc.). Visitors are invited to draw inspiration from the mystical atmosphere of this location and create cultural objects (texts, objects, sculptures, audio works, etc.) which will be part of a large exhibition held to close the Matera-2019 year of culture.
Matera? This is the Intolife destination par excellence: a town turned to the future, while forgetting nothing of its past, in a spirit of great humanity.
Find out more
Matera 2019 official website: www.matera-basilicata2019.it/en/