Europe,  Italy

Matera, Mel and malaria

Let’s start with an exercise. Don’t worry, I don’t want you to stretch your muscles. I want you to stretch your imagination. Imagine a town on the edge of a gorge. Imagine inhabited caves. Each cave is a fully functioning house – there’s a kitchen, dining area, bedroom, bathroom and place for a donkey and some chickens. All in one cave, including a whole family. No running water, only rainwater. No vegetable garden, only tufa limestone. If you want to actually grow something, you have to go to the other side of the gorge. And now imagine 15 000 people living in these caves. Sounds like diseases. Like malaria. And malaria was a huge issue.

It’s 1952, IBM has just released their very first scientific computer. Gary Cooper receives an Oscar for his role in the “High Noon”. Liam Neeson and Mickey Rourke are born. Women wear handbags which match their shoes. Dior comes up with a concept of boutiques. Meanwhile, in Italy, the government decides to force 15 000 citizens of Matera to live their homes and move into newly built houses. Yes, the exercise was all about Matera in 1952. The city was called the shame of Italy. Quite terrifying, isn’t it?

Two “cave districts”, called sassi were left behind and forgotten. Matera became a ghost time. People reminded themselves about it in the 80s and started the hard work of turning it into a place to live. It wasn’t easy, to say the least. 30 years of oblivion combined with an earthquake – doesn’t sound like a fun project. In 1993 Matera was included in the World Heritage Site. This years, it’s the European Capital of Culture.

All of these makes a bit of a creepy atmosphere. When we were in Matera, there was some kind of hurricane with wind so strong, the doors in our building kept slamming. Creepier and creepier.

Did you know, that Matera is the third-longest inhabited city in the World? People have been living in the caves for the past 7000 years. Now there are around 3000 caves. Go and visit one of the Casa Grotta. The entrance is just a few Euros and it really makes you think about life. Highly recommend, if you’ll be passing by one of them. Because Matera is all about walking up and down, getting lost, finding a cave which someone has recently walled up. And once you’re done with walking, drive to the other side of the gorge.

The other side was the side full of plants, water and crops. And chiese rupestri – cave churches. Now you have amazing views and hiking trails. This is the part which we had to neglect due to the lack of time. I have certainly underestimated Matera in my planning process. Don’t make this mistake.

 And because I love trivia, here’s one more trivia. Mel Gibson chose Matera to shoot The Passion of the Christ because it reminded him of Jerusalem. That says a lot…

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