“We have moved from shame to glory”, admits Raffaello De Ruggieri, the mayor of Matera, a town of Basilicata, the Italian prime minister, Alcide De Gasperi, one of the founding fathers of Europe, had qualified in the 1950s of “national shame” for its miserable living conditions. Its inhabitants found refuge in caves dating from the palaeolithic, without light or running water or sewage. Half a century has passed and the city is aiming today to receive hundreds of thousands of visitors, attracted by the culture and the heritage, in these same caves, many of which have been restored.

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“My grandfather of 90 years was a farmer and lived in the sassi. But he never would have expected to see the wi-fi or jacuzzis in these prehistoric caves!”

Vito Cuscianna, taxi to Matera

“We want the person who decides to come to Matera to live a experience,” says Paolo canopy has a different, Foundation director Matera 2019, after having long been in charge of the book fair of Turin. Nicknamed the “Jerusalem of the West” for its troglodyte dwellings in stone carved in the side of a ravine (“sassi”), Matera is considered the third oldest city in the world after Aleppo (Syria) and Jericho (west bank). Remains “evidence of the presence of man since 8000 years”, says the mayor. “This is why we want tourism to be “slow”,” says Paolo canopy has a different, which hopes to attract lovers of art and culture rather than the visitors at no charge in one day. To achieve this, he has programmed almost 300 performances, workshops, exhibitions, conferences, ranging from music to gastronomy through readings in public. “Everyone should bring something, like a book, and explain why he wants to enhance the european culture”, he explains.

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The “temporary residents” of Matera will have to pay 19 euros for a passport valid for one year which will allow them to attend all events. They are also invited to draw inspiration from the landscapes of biblical and mystical atmosphere to write text, create objects, sculptures, invent sounds, of the facilities, which will become an exhibition. “A challenge,” admits the French Ariane Bieou, in charge of the cultural programme of the Matera 2019, after having worked to overcome the stereotypes imposed on Marseille, capital of Culture in 2013. “The role of a european capital of culture is to promote the growth of a territory”, she explained. It is an arduous task in a city without an airport or high-speed trains, access roads winding by the edge of the ravines. Cited in the painful past but promised a brighter future, Matera is a world heritage of Unesco since 1993, which has helped increase its visibility.

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The film also uses her to recreate the decor imagination of christian antiquity in The Gospel according to St. Matthew of Pier Paolo Pasolini or in The Passion of the Christ , signed by Mel Gibson. “Matera calls on Europe and Europe has called Matera,” says Ariane Bieou. A currency that does not convince Patrizia Capriotti, owner of a shop of objects and clothes, many of which are made in a workshop that recycles the waste. “It’s a project too far from the reality. I am afraid that we do not become a sort of Venice, invaded by mass tourism, a model that must be stopped”, she says. The commercial disputes the model of tourism that “the people will live in neighborhoods and transform their stone houses or caves family residences de tourisme”.

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The lower part of Matera, where you can visit 150 rock-hewn churches, is in fact buzzing with workers up and down the stairs to the rehabilitation of the houses converted into “boutique hotels”. Near the medieval church of Madonna of the Virtù, Vito Cuscianna offers tourists the services of its Vespa taxi. “My grandfather of 90 years was a farmer and lived in the sassi. But he never would have expected to see the wi-fi or jacuzzis in these prehistoric caves!”, fun-t-it.