Matera, the long journey from “national shame” to European capital of culture


Matera, the long journey from “national shame” to European capital of culture

Matera, where poverty, backwardness and lack of the most elementary hygiene rules characterized the life of the inhabitants of the Sassi, two blocks on the upper part of the city. Serafino Paternoster, coordinator of the press office of the Matera-Basilicata 2019 Foundation, the institution that manages and implements the cultural program of Matera Capital of Culture 2019, explained us the long journey that led the Lucan capital to become a city known worldwide and a reference point for European cultural tourism.

Matera - Church of Santa Maria De Idris
Matera – Church of Santa Maria De Idris

The Sassi of Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Sassi of Matera were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993. They were the first written site in southern Italy. The inscription was motivated by the fact that they represent an extraordinary urban ecosystem, capable of perpetuating from the most distant prehistoric past the ways of living in caves up to modernity. The Sassi of Matera are an exceptional example of careful use over time of the resources provided by nature: water, soil, energy.

“The history of Matera is very particular, because it is a city with a unique feature in the world: it is one of the few urban centers where man has always been present during its millennial history. It is a story made up of declines and rebirths. In the immediate post-war period, in the Sassi of Matera, the community lived in very difficult conditions, with a very high infant mortality rate, which led the State to define Matera as a “national shame” and to issue a law that forced most of the citizens to abandon the Sassi to move to neighborhoods recently built on the outskirts of the city “.

Abandoned for decades, the Sassi of Matera returned to the center of public attention. In the 1970s the fate of the Sassi was at the center of an international debate. “There were two ways to go: either turn the Sassi into an open-air museum, or try to make them live again. In the end they opted for this last hypothesis. The State attributed to the town of Matera roughly 100 million Euros (sum upgraded counting inflation of 50 years) to help the recovery of these Sassi and the return of the inhabitants to the districts “. Thanks to this revaluation process, Matera and its Sassi enter the world heritage of humanity, “the first city of southern Italy”. From a World Heritage Site to a European Capital of Culture

From then on the spotlight turned on Matera, not by chance that many registers have chosen it as a set of their own films, one of all “The Passion” by Mel Gibson. In 2009 a group of boys decided to nominate Matera as European Capital of Culture – the Matera 2019 Association was born – the municipal administration decided to support this candidacy, beginning the journey that will lead October 17, 2014 with the proclamation of Matera capital European culture 2019. Every year two European cities become the capital of culture, in 2019 it was Italy and Bulgaria, and it is no coincidence that Matera shares this burden with Plodvid.

In order to win the title of “European Capital of Culture”, Matera took part in a national competition in which 21 cities participated. Winning was not the most beautiful city, nor the oldest, but the city that was able to present its idea of ​​change.

“The cultural program of Matera is based on two aspects: the European dimension of the projects and the involvement of the citizens. Our work began ten years ago with a work of involvement and conviction of the citizens. Among the many projects carried out in recent years, I can remember, for example, the Urban Games held in five Lucan communes, with the participation of young people from Europe, Italy and Basilicata who were hosted by the families of these cities, or the ‘Balconi Fioriti’ competition which gave to the winners the opportunity to participate in urban workshops held by local artists “.

Matera, the application file

“After the title it is now time to carry out the cultural program written in the candidacy dossier, which has a cost of 50 million euros. Thirty come from the State, ten from the Basilicata region, five from the Municipality and seven from private sponsors. our cultural program is the people: for us it is a toolbox that we put at the disposal of citizens to enrich their skills. We are the only European capital of culture that has built a cultural program half entrusted to 27 creative companies from Basilicata ” .

The tourism boom in Matera

“Already during the application period we had a positive response in terms of visibility and positioning of the city. From 2010 to 2017, tourism has increased from 200,000 per year to 480,000 admissions a year, from 2000 beds to 10,000 beds , and we expect about 800,000 people to arrive in Matera in 2019. The real estate value has grown by around 3%, we have positive effects on GDP, with growth of 1.7% “.

But what will be the legacy that Matera will leave as the capital of culture? “Certainly a position of Matera in the national and international tourist circuit together with more famous cities, to date we are the sixth national city of cultural tourism. We leave a city more open to Europe with citizens who look at Europe with a more sensitive eye The Foundation will close in 2022.


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