“Matera shame of Italy”, that’s how this amazing city was once defined, la vergogna d’Italia. I’m going to tell you the story.
Writer Carlo Levi testimony
In 1935, writer Carlo Levi was sent to the village of Aliano in Basilicata for confinement, due to his anti-fascist positions. On that occasion he visited Matera. In his book Christ stopped at Eboli he wrote some moving pages, describing the terrible conditions of the population. I read that book and it moved me deeply.
Each family generally has only one of those caves as a dwelling and they all sleep together: men, women, children, beasts. I saw children sitting on the doorstep of the houses, in the dirt, in the scorching sun, with half-closed eyes and red, swollen eyelids. I felt like I was in the middle of a city hit by the plague.
The book, published in 1945, created sensation at the time, so that many journalists and intellectuals visited and described Matera, which became the symbol of the backwardness of Southern Italy.
Matera shame of Italy
The political class had to do something. Some politicians visited the city. Alcide De Gasperi defined it “national infamy” while Palmiro Togliatti “shame of Italy”.
In 1952 the Italian State set funds for the construction of new residential quarters. And forced two thirds of the inhabitants (about 17.000 people) to abandon their houses and move to the new districts. Only exception, people living in the so called Piano, the area just outside the perimeter of the Sassi. This area is now the modern part of the historical centre (via San Biagio, Piazza Vittorio Veneto, via del Corso, etc).
A ghost town
After the displacement, decades of complete abandonment followed: the Sassi were just a ghost town, abandoned and degraded.
Sassi back to life
Many Materani formed associations, aiming to bring the Sassi back to life. Finally, in 1986 a new law allowed the beginning of the recovery, granting free license to those who could bear the costs of a conservative rehabilitation.
For example, the BB in which I stayed was one of them. The owner told me that the State granted him the use of the cave. But first of all he had to send away a man who was illegally using the cave to store wine. And do a huge renovation work. He showed me the photos. The place was in a horrible state. Now it is spectacular. You can read more following the link below.
What to see in Matera
If you want to learn more about how is Matera now, go to my previous post: Top things to see in Matera.