Matera has inaugurated its year as European Capital of Culture in 2019 – the first southern Italian city to be granted this recognition. The opportunity is “an occasion for the whole South,” said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, at the opening ceremony held in the city’s Auditorium della Cava del Sole.
“As a southern man and premier,” Bari-born Conte expressed confidence that Matera’s year as cultural capital will be an occasion “for the whole South so that the future can be here,” promising new investments and a contract of development for Basilicata. Once one of Europe’s poorest cities, Matera became internationally renowned when writer Carlo Levi was exiled by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime to a town nearby in 1935, describing in his novel “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” the extreme poverty he witnessed. Conte quoted Levi at the inauguration ceremony – “Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awe-struck, so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty,” citing the writer’s Le Mille Patrie (A Thousand Homelands). Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli said the European Capital of Culture could “become a new model of development for the whole South.”
Minister Bonisoli also revealed that talks are ongoing with Milan’s La Scala Theater to organize events in Matera, by staging short opera productions that last about an hour, rather than the usual three hours. PM Conte has mentioned previously that the government will invest in projects in the region that are sustainable, innovative and plausible.
Large crowds of residents turned out to celebrate the occasion for the city, known for the grottoes and caves, where families used to live, as well as the Sassi (stones) carved out of the limestone that date back to Matera’s prehistoric age. In 1993, UNESCO declared the Sassi, once a symbol of the city’s extreme poverty, a World Heritage Site. Now, in addition to some residents, the caves sport boutique hotels and restaurants. Said the town’s Mayor Raffaello De Ruggieri, “that as the European Capital of Culture, Matera has now shifted towards redemption.”