Italy’s ‘cave town’ has been crowned City of Culture

May 08, 2019 318

The choice of Matera as 2019’s European City of Culture will have astonished Italians of a certain age, although not those who have ever visited it. Fifty years ago, the city was designated the ‘national shame’ of Italy, embodying everything that was wrong with the impoverished south. But it was not true then and is little more than a hazy memory today, especially as 200,000 foreign visitors are expected this year.

What had got politicians hot under the collar was precisely the cause of the city’s current celebrity: more than half the population used to live in caves. Matera sits perched on the edge of a sharp ravine – or rather the wealthier part does. The poor used to live, hugger-mugger, down the hillside in assorted stone hovels and caves that spread towards the fast-flowing River Gavina.

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