European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

From primordial dwelling to creative survival

Matera offers some very important lessons for other cities which have ignored environmental constraints and potentialities in their own surrounding.

Matera became known through the novel written by Carlo Levi "Christ stopped at Eboli" and many films such as "Il vangelo secondo Matteo" by Pier Paolo Pasolini and “The Passion” of Mel Gibson.

Located in the Region of Basilicata, Matera is a primordial dwelling settlement based on cave - houses carved in the stones and therefore called the “Sassi” (The Rocks). The “Sassi of Matera” represents the persistence of a prehistoric past to be experienced by visiting the cavernous and underground mazes underlying the built up structures of the town itself.

The “Sassi of Matera” was organized due to a shortage of resources. The need for appropriate land and water saving, along with control of heat and solar energy made it adapt in a unique way.

However, "in the 50s this way of living was considered unacceptable for modernity. Matera was declared  “a national shame” and 20,000 inhabitants were forced to move to new quarters. The abandoned houses became State property and were walled in order to prevent people from living in the caves. Consequently, the “Sassi of Matera” became a ghost town: the largest European historic centre that was completely abandoned. The dwellings not inhabited and aired underwent a rapid degradation process as well as the rock –hewn churches boasting beautiful medieval frescoes."

"In 1993 Matera has been the first site of southern Italy inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The acknowledgment has been obtained with a new narrative vision that has demonstrated the value and the meaning of the town that represent a primordial way of living based on the identity of small towns, slow life and community solidarity. Thus started a process of restoration aimed at the reuse of traditional technologies in an innovative way like rehabilitation of cistern to harvest rainfall water and of the caves to optimize the internal microclimates. Matera becomes a national and international tourist attraction and the most important example of urban rehabilitation in the Mediterranean."

Now that Matera has been designated as of Oct. 17, 2014 to be European Capital of Culture in 2019, and this after Florence, Bologna and Genoa the fourth European Capital of Culture it will represent the South of Italy.

"Matera shows that the disadvantageous conditions can be transformed into renewable resources. To save water and energy, to reuse the caves, to manage local resources in a proper way do not represent a delay vis-à-vis modernity but rather a proposal for a sustainable future."

"Matera teaches us about creative survival. It demonstrates the virtues of good neighborliness to nature and people. It enlightens us on the ancient art of inhabiting space. It reminds us of the power of turning utopian visions into reality."


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