Stealthily in the night, a stray dog slunk from around a dark corner and passed by me without a raised snout in my direction. I braced myself with a hand against the ancient stone wall and peered behind me, watching the only life form I’ve seen in the last thirty minutes in this historic Italian city of Matera. From my hotel (Corte San Pietro), I climbed higher and higher through winding cobble-stoned streets with the glorious sight of the Sassi di Matera (Stones of Matera) laid bare, illuminated, before me. The air was quiet with pregnant expectation and the night, dark waiting for the unsuspecting passer-by to discover its mysterious secrets. But still I climbed. Another ten minutes later, I found myself in a grandiose archway, uneven steps with only a flickering artificial light to guide my way. I smiled at the sight. I could feel the stirrings of my dormant exploration wonderment within me. This is what I wanted, to walk on history, to smell the rustic earthly scents, even to lose myself in the maze of Matera. Step by step, my vision grew brighter as I peeked above the last step. Merriment reached my ears, lost in translation as the excited chatter in Italian grew louder again step by step. Blowing a sigh of happiness, I stood on the last step, in awe of the sight around me. This was the Central Square – a large smoothed out architectural masterpiece that saw quaint restaurants, busy bars and a cathedral with its steps thronged by young crowds looking to impress each other on their Vespas. I had reached this pocket of civilisation from my narrow winding journey in the remote profound stone heavens clinging on the sides of the Gravina Canyon.
Strolling through the dusky square on my first night in Matera, I noticed signs erected on walls, above doorways and even badges of merry-making revellers – Matera 2019. What was this all about, I thought to myself. Asking a passer-by, he simply explained that they were hoping to win the 2019 European Capital of Culture bid. ‘Huh’, I replied and continued on my way. But if my two nights stay in Matera in the region of Basilicata has meant anything to me, it was that Matera was well deserving of that title.
So what the European Capital of Culture?
Basically, it’s a city designated by the European Union for one year to promote its cultural diversity with a series of events that also holds a strong European connection. It can be a fantastic opportunity for the city to reap cultural, economic and social benefits that will improve the city’s image and reputation through regeneration and raise its profile on the international circuit. More than 40 cities have been designated so far including the UK’s Glasgow and Liverpool and for the 2019 capital, many cities have put their name forward including Matera. First, Matera will need to beat off competition from fellow Italian cities: Reggio Calabria, Cagliari, Lecce, Perugia-Ravenna and Siena. I confess that I haven’t been to those Italian cities but I do strongly support Matera in their bid.
The panoramic beauty of the landscapes surrounding the city, the earliest evidence of civilisation from the Palaeolithic, the ancient and quirky cave homes, a deluge of delightful festivals, the friendly locals proud of their home and the architectural layout gems all complement the best feature of Matera – Sassi di Matera. I cannot enthuse how much I fell in love with the city and I feel my words cannot do Matera justice to help them support in their bid for 2019 European Capital of Culture. So, I thought I’d go with the next best idea. Pictures. Each tells a thousand words and to the European Union, I present 19 pictures from my brief time in Matera. That’s 19,000 words. Prepare to be amazed.
What do you think? Does Matera deserve to be European Capital of Culture in 2019? I know I do.
Disclaimer: My trip to Matera was organized by Basilicata Tourism as part of their #HelloBasilicata blogger campaign. All content, thoughts and opinions on RexyEdventures are always my own.