On a crisp winter’s day, locals gather in a Southern Italian piazza, in the shadow of a 13th century convent, to raise a visionary new architectural structure. It takes a village to hoist the spired earth-toned building — though it’s made of cardboard.
These villagers built the terraced work, designed by artist Olivier Grossetête, brick by paper brick with their bare hands. It is a testament to the cultural citizenship underpinning the story of renewal in Matera — 2019 European Capital of Culture.
The construction of the cardboard monument was part of the 2018 celebrations, ahead of Matera 2019 — echoing the town tradition of fabricating a papier-mâché float for the Festival of the Patron Saint ‘Madonna della Bruna’.
Over the course of the coming year, exhibitions and events taking place throughout this Neolithic-meets-Digital Age city will draw from the community’s grassroots strength to introduce the world to its culture of innovative reinvention.
Matera’s townspeople will take part in a performance of Purgatorio — an homage to Dante Alighieri, inspired by his 14th century poem The Divine Comedy.
Some 200 locals will also participate in Living the Opera for an al fresco production of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, staged with collaboration from Europe’s oldest active opera house, Teatro San Carlo di Napoli.
A ‘Stone City’ in the Stone Age
Nestled within the instep of ‘the boot’ in Italy’s Basilicata region, Matera is perhaps best known for the Sassi — steeply graded stone dwellings dating back 9,000 years. This stunning landscape helped the berg secure a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list in 1993.
Matera 2019 opens with the Ars Excavandi exhibition, which highlights the town’s signature rupestrian (rock-composed) art, architecture and archeology. An experiential journey — from the Palaeolithic era into the 21st century — takes visitors to various Matera sites, including some of the ‘subterranean city’s’ hypogeum (underground chambers) and into amazing rupestrian eco-systems on various continents.
The Stratigraphy - The Observatory of Anthropocene exhibit investigates a new geological era following the Holocene period, tracing changes to the planet’s resources and human activity. It also offers a glimpse inside the early settlements of Matera — one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Zooming forward, the show looks at today’s science of earth observation.
The ancient stone-scape of the Sassi has earned Matera the nickname ‘the second Bethlehem’ — a fact that has clearly not been lost on period filmmakers. The town has been a shooting location for The Passion of the Christ and the 2016 Morgan Freeman remake of Ben-Hur.
A Tales of Two Renaissances
Florence, Rome, Milan and Venice are synonymous with the Renaissance, however paintings, sculptures, books, tapestries, maps and other antique treasures from elsewhere in Southern Europe offer an alternative perspective on the period.
Through over 180 pieces of art, the exhibit The Renaissance As Seen from the South sheds light on Western civilisation’s most vibrant epoch through Matera, Southern Italy and other Mediterranean locales during the 15th and 16th centuries.
While rich in relics, from Byzantine frescoes to 17th century statues, Matera found itself in a state of disrepair by the 1950s. So Italy’s then-prime minister had its roughly 16,000 residents relocated to nearby modern housing — leaving behind a limestone ghost town waiting to be reclaimed.
But a spirit of resurgence unfolded through the decades. In the ‘80s, the government offered Matera subsidies for restoration. Young industrious Italians moved in. Local artisans appropriated the kingdom of caverns as their craggy arched ateliers — some applying their skills to the indigenous craft of ceramic cucù rooster whistle-making.
A dynamic modern Italian Renaissance was set in motion— much of it at the hands of these townspeople. Their ultimate success can be seen today, in everything from restyled caves-turned-boutique hotels to tech incubators, museums, galleries and dwellings.
Matera 2019’s Ancient Future programme theme includes…
• Cosmic Jives/ The Apollo Soundtrack —Electronic music legend Brian Eno orchestrates a mix of visuals and soundscape from his Apollo album which celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing
• Poetry of Primes — An exhibition and related workshops and conferences spotlight the magic of mathematics, from Pythagora and Galileo to works of art by M.C. Escher
• Lumen | Social Light — 15 lighting elements will dazzle visitors to Matera-wide sites while workshops invite visitors to craft their own illuminations for the town
The Making of a Global Village
Matera 2019’s pillar projects bring to life the inventive, evolving city and its residents. The I-DEA project, will host multidisciplinary art shows focused on Basilicata’s cultural, artistic and anthropological heritage, curated by Italian and international creators. In addition, the 1950s exodus from Matera’s Sassi into new neighbourhoods will be immortalised in an original production, consisting of oral histories.
The other pillar project, Open Design School, will serve as a creative lab where citizens and foreign participants can share ideas — on art, science and technology — resulting in the design, production and staging of Matera 2019.
Visitors can also become part of the city as ‘Temponauts’ — honorary event explorers. Curious and inquisitive travellers can do so by purchasing a Matera 2019 Passport of temporary citizenship, which gives them 365-day access to all productions, events and exhibitions.
The universal language of music will unite local and international visitors on 19 January 2019, for the Opening Ceremony of Matera European Capital of Culture, showcasing performances from regional and global talent.
Alleyways, major thoroughfares and piazzas will resound with the sounds of marching bands from all over Basilicata and the other European Capitals of Culture.
But it is perhaps the next day’s activities which best embody Matera 2019’s spirit of cultural citizenship and its outreach to citizens of the world.
On 20 January, individual area bands will meet up with their foreign musical peers for historic joint performances in each of their respective town squares throughout Basilicata — creating the inspiring atmosphere of a truly global village.
Discover more events taking place in Matera in 2019.
Matera 2019 is full of opportunities for connection and a collective appreciation of the city’s rich culture…
• Ka art — A series of forays into imagination and stories; from writer/artist dialogues to a hybrid dinner/performance featuring local communities
• Rivelation Revelation Rid — Join a guided workshop and contribute to an awareness-raising environmental piece that spans the Gravina stream
• The Atlas of the City’s Emotions — Explore the town through an interactive map made up of Materans’ memories
• Volunteer 2019 — Become an integral part of Matera 2019 by donating time to the festivities