History of Matera

Matera is considered one of the oldest city in the world. The many caves in the soft rock along the canyon of Matera offered natural shelter to men since the dawn of time. There are numerous archaeological evidences of Neolithic villagesIn ancient times the influence of the nearby Magna Grecia was strong, while the witnesses of Roman times are very scarce. In the Middle Ages the city was fought over by Longobards, Byzantines and even Saracens. In that same period, monasticism spread, and many caves became small chapels and churches, the so called Rock-Churches.Some important churches in the city date back to the Late Middle Ages, such as the Cathedral and the one now know as San Giovanni Battista. All along its history Matera has had, for long periods, a broad autonomy being in fact independent from the feudal power. But in 1497 Giovan Carlo Tramontano became Count of Matera. He behaved like a tyrant and increasing taxes, which would also be destined to finance the construction of his castle. In 1514, however, the people of Matera rose up against the oppression and killed Count Tramontano in a riot. In 1663 the city became the chief town of Basilicata (remained so until 1806). In those years Matera experienced an important urban development. The flat area around the Sassi, known as''PianoUntil then the Sassi had been an example of perfect integration between man-made work and nature. The most outstanding example of this balance is the ingenious water collection systemEvery drop of rainwater was collected, creating an oasis of life in the middle of a dry and rocky territory. Nevertheless, starting from the end of the XVIII century the city’s economy became poor and the Sassi underwent a structural and social degradation. Many of the caves originally meant as stables or cisterns were converted into houses, housing large farmer families who also shared those spaces with livestock animals. The lack of sewers and running water led to poor sanitary conditions that persisted until the mid-twentieth century. After the second world war Matera became the symbol of peasant poverty such significantly that was even defined the national shame of Italy. In 1952 the Italian Prime Minister De Gasperi enacted a special law that allowed families to leave cave houses to move into modern homes. In the meantime the Sassi emptied out and became a ghost town. In 1986, after years of neglect, a slow recovery program of the Sassi began. In 1993 the Sassi were declaired world heritage of humanity byUNESCO and in 2014 Matera was proclaimed European capital of culture for 2019.

Historical representation of Matera
Sassi of Matera with Matera 2019 logo

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