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Matera: 2019 European Capital of Culture

Posted by Carol Sicbaldi

We're proud to announce that Matera, a place we adore and cherish, has been nominated the 2019 European Capital of Culture. Read on to learn more about the history, lore, interesting corners and  cave dwellers living in this incredible place! It's beauty on the rocks. 

Matera Puglia Skyline

With a history dating to Paleolithic times and a bright future, the fascinating and hypnotically beautiful town of Matera is the 2019 European Capital of Culture. The unique architecture of this ancient city includes buildings carved from the rock face and built into caves. Throughout 2019, the city’s two districts, known as ‘Sassi,’ will host a program of events attracting visitors from all over the world. More than 300 events are scheduled including exhibitions, shows, live music, installations, cultural and literary events, theatre and more.

The city began preparing early for its year in the spotlight, with nearly the whole town involved in a monumental cardboard construction project organized by Spanish artist Olivier Grossetête for the ‘Meno Uno’ (one year to go) event last January. Over 600 people collaborated to build the 60-foot tall architectural masterpiece.

It is truly an unforgettable experience.

Matera is without doubt one of the most beautiful UNESCO heritage sites, an open-air museum with gourmet restaurants and 5-star hotels. The city’s ancient beauty is perfectly intact, making it the ideal setting for films such as Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St Matthew” and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”. Known as the City of Stones or the Underground City, Matera is one of the oldest settlements in the world; parts of the town have been inhabited since the Bronze Age.

In recent years, Matera has attracted a new wave of artists and their families, giving the town an international edge. Mikaela Bandini left her native Cape Town to found Area 8, a production and marketing agency by day and a café and theatre by night. Wes Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix can sometimes be seen sipping cocktails and listening to music in this multifunctional space. Mariella Stella, a native of Matera, and Andrea Paoletti from Piedmont chose to locate their co-working community association, CasaNatural, in the town, which experiments with local and social design.

Puglia Hotel Matera

Matera also features a beautiful melding of natural and cultural elements, exemplified by the Enoteca dai Tosi winery. Situated in a historical cave with a three-level layout and minimalist design, the Enoteca is a unique spot to meet friends for a glass of excellent Italian wine. Several international architectural studios competed to design the enoteca, with the contract going to the Belgian studio Architecten de Vylder Vinck Taillieu. The interior is almost entirely carved out of stone, from the walls, ceiling, and stairs to the seating areas and even the wine bottles. A  staircase descends through three circular levels furnished with green chairs and lit by suspended Venetian glass lamps in shapes inspired by wine chalices. Since it opened in 2017, the Enoteca dai Tosi has become an integral part of Matera, a wonderful place to meet, chat, and taste wine; in perfect harmony with its surroundings and symbolic of Matera’s rich past and exciting future.

If you want to know more about the history and culture of Matera, we recommend a visit to the Casa Noha. This house at Sasso Caveoso once belonged to the Noha family, who donated it to the Italian National Trust (FAI). Its walls and vaulted ceilings are carved from the surrounding tufa. In the rooms of the house you can watch videos projected onto the ancient walls which explain the history of Matera’s ‘Sassi’. We also recommend the Museo Laboratorio della Civiltà Contadina, in via San Giovanni Vecchio, which is devoted to Matera and its surroundings and above all to the humble people whose culture and traditions have shaped its territory and history.

Visiting Matera is an emotional experience, and if you are looking for something extra, you could explore the underground city. The Ipogeo Materasum is a walk through time and space, passing by houses, streets and places of worship hidden under the city. It is truly an unforgettable experience.

We visit and stay in the city of Matera on both our La Bella Puglia trip and Bike Across Southern Italy. Now is the time to visit this jewel of a city–––before the rest the world discovers this secret!


Matera, Bike Across Southern Italy

Written by Carol Sicbaldi

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