Pearl of ancient and contemporary art in the world

The city of Matera is a unique example of an ancient cave settlement which is still inhabited, where human ingenuity joins the divinity of Mother Nature to make the “City of the Sassi,” one of the masterpieces of urban art, recognized since 1993 as a World Heritage Site. This was the first time that UNESCO used the concept of a “cultural landscape” as a criterion for selection, which was later used to motivate the inclusion of other sites around the world. Even if nothing is known of the prehistoric village that formed the nucleus of the settlement, there are several hypotheses about its origin. There is talk of Mateola or the ancient city of Japigia, beside which ran a ravine crossed by streams, that the Greeks called Mataios olos (all empty), hence the name Mataia, which then transformed into Mateola. In the Hellenic Age, the city welcomed refugees from Metaponto and Herakleum after their destruction, from which comes another interesting hypothesis of the union of the names of two cities: Meta + Hera. According to other sources, the name comes from the root “mata,” meaning a pile of rocks or from the Greek Metèoron which means “starry sky” such as is visible from the cliffs of the Murgia Materana, or expresses the illumination of the city when it was the custom to put candles in the windows of dwellings during a population census. The Roman consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus who rebuilt the city and surrounded it with walls and towers, designates it as Mateola, and Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia called the inhabitants, Mateolani, and lists them among Apulians, being at the time located on the Apulian-Lucan border. There are also other interpretations of the name Matera, less philological but more poetic and suggestive: from Mater to Mia Terra (as mentioned by Pythagoras himself); from Materia to Mia Arte (through an anagram of the word at its heart “Ater”) linked to the concept of the darkness of the caves in which the city was built transformed into a positive and creative act. We chose the title Matera, Pearl of Art Ancient and Modern, because Matera is considered not only as the pearl of Lucania but also because - by its own history - it is the symbol of art in world, being a prime example of urban art and the art of frescoes which have survived 9,000 years. It is no coincidence that in 2014, Matera was designated European Capital of Culture 2019, after Florence in 1986 and Genoa in 2004. This is an extraordinary and important event, especially at this particular moment in history, both for the future of the south of Italy and for Europe, because it allows this mythical prehistoric settlement, now a modern and active city, to be a launch pad into the future for European culture. This is a significant occasion, not only the city and its surrounding region, but for Europe itself: because by starting from a rediscovery and renewed appreciation of its roots, Matera – as a symbol of human art and urban history in all its forms, structure, aesthetics and ethics from ancient times to the present day – can radiate an important message of hope, development and peace to all parts of the world, north, south, east and west. It expresses a new form of humanism for the digital age, which embodies love and care for the places we call home, for the regions where we live, and for (g)local ecosystems, based on a deeper understanding of the origins of our identities.  


Ornella Orlandoni Vanbutsele