Thoughts on Travel, Photography and Life from Ian Lloyd

Matera - Italy’s Shame Transformed

Matera in southern Italy is one of the oldest cities in the world with 9000 years of continuous human habitation. Situated along a steep river valley Its stone cliffs became cave dwellings and also churches for early Christians. By the 1950s though, its residents were living in abject poverty without electricity or sanitation and often sharing a living space with farm animals.  Photos from that era are pretty grim and the world was appalled. In its shame, the government of Italy with help from the typewriter millionaire Olivetti, initiated a plan to move the inhabitants to new apartment buildings and then boarded up the caves.

Squatters and artists slowly returned in the 1980s and redevelopment began. By 1993 Matera became a UNESCO World Heritage site while archaeologists continued to uncover ancient churches and cave paintings. With the return of services, the cave dwellings known as ‘sassi' were redeveloped as art galleries, restaurants and hotels. This amazing troglodyte settlement also became the perfect backdrop for biblical era films such as Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of The Christ’.

Today, restoration is still underway and visitors are invited to explore Matera’s streets and tunnels whilst perhaps staying in an historic cave B&B.

by Ian Lloyd