A truly unique city in Basilicata, southern Italy and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Matera’s history seems back to front. Many places experience periods of great splendour, followed by gradual desolate decline that is made bearable by their sumptuous ruins, testimony of their glorious past. The exact opposite has happened in Matera.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the city had the highest rate of illiteracy in Italy. Its world-famous rock dwellings were little more than caves where large and small families alike lived in awful conditions. In September 1902, Prime Minister Zanardelli visited Basilicata to see for himself the serious problems plaguing one of the poorest regions in Italy. He said of Matera: “Five-sixths of the population of Matera live in hovels dug out of the naked rock, leaning against, or superimposed upon, others of the same kind. In these the peasants do not live but, like maggots, toss and turn surrounded by putrid dung in fermentation and in a nameless promiscuity of men and beasts”.
It doesn’t take much to see just how hard Matera and its residents have worked to bring about the city’s social and cultural rebirth.

In 1993 UNESCO declared the Sassi of Matera a World Heritage Site and on 17 October 2014 Matera was named 2019 European Capital of Culture.
The European Capital of Culture is a city chosen by the European Union amongst several candidates which, for one year, is given the extraordinary chance to be the centre of attention and show its life and culture to the rest of the world. This international exposure helps attract thousands of tourists and relaunch the city’s economy.
A prestigious showcase not just for the city in Basilicata but for the whole of southern Italy.


Five other Italian cities had submitted their candidacy alongside Matera: Ravenna, Cagliari, Lecce, Perugia-Assisi and Siena.
But a jury of international experts chose the city of Sassi.
This decision was based firstly on the quirky initiatives it had planned and the European reach of the project. As well as its modern and almost visionary approach aimed at attracting a wide international public.
Then there was its focus on digital technology. The creation of an online TV channel, the digitalisation of its heritage archives and coding clubs for young people. It was a forward-looking and innovative approach.
The financial aspect was also instrumental in the decision, as Matera committed to covering 70% of the funding, irrespective of the outcome, showing that its candidacy programme was part of a strategic plan rather than simply a bid for a competition.

On 19 January 2019, an atmospheric opening ceremony kicked off the year of events.
The celebration, which started in the morning, resounded to the beat of marching bands from all over Europe, with more than two thousand musicians from 54 bands parading through the districts of Matera.
Projects, events and installations have been planned for the whole of 2019. Matera is getting ready for weeks packed with events which revolve around five themes and four important exhibitions.

Five themes have been chosen for Matera, European Capital of Culture.

Ancient Future.

The cultural projects in this theme invite visitors to reflect on man’s millennial relationship with space and the stars. And the infinite possibilities of dialogue between man and nature, with concerts and visits to places of spiritual (such as churches hewn out of the rock) or cosmological interest (like the Space Geodesy Centre). There will also be real mathematical and magic shows, so you can brush the dust off your old algebra and science books and fall in love with this fascinating world. Rediscover the beauty of silence, the pleasure of music, in a highly innovative instrumental and scientific version of the world. Quantum mechanics and art.
If you’re interested in this theme, click on the link and read about the events, dates and locations.

Continuity and Disruptions.
Togliatti called the Sassi a “national shame”, while De Gasperi ordered the residents be moved out of the area which is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The parable of the Sassi still leaves many speechless. Shame has given way to action, debate and rebirth. “A positive, redeeming, splendidly tragic and cathartic shame: the most beautiful of shames”.
Here we come to terms not only with the shame of the city itself but also its multiple forms at the European level, ranging from increasing social inequalities to the resurgence of racism, the inability of many European countries to offer a future and hope to their youngsters and the drama of the exodus of desperate people fleeing the ongoing wars in Africa and Asia.
All the events related to this theme can be found a.

Reflections and Connections.
In this theme we are invited to rediscover the value of time and slowness, distance ourselves from the overwhelming immediate present, slow down the pace. Think things over again from the beginning, consider essential issues and basic values. Art, science and the widespread practice of cultural citizenship can act, throughout Europe, as a catalyst for a new, revolutionary model of community, rooted in the “practice of daily life”.
Discover the events in this theme

Utopias and dystopias.

A challenge to preconceptions. Is tourism the only way to achieve economic stability in the city? Or is food really the main identifier of a place? Is industrial monoculture the only chance for Matera to grow? Imagine possible alternatives, reject fatalistic attitudes, change the underlying mindset. This is the leitmotiv of the events in this theme and you can read more about them at.

Roots and routes.

Mobility is a culture that unites Europe. Moving from place to place has been part of Matera’s life ever since the tradition of transhumance. Like many other rural regions in Italy and Europe, Matera has watched its youngsters leave their land to seek their fortune elsewhere. But over the past couple of years, they have witnessed the return of many young people, attracted by the values of southern Italian culture. Basilicata is a land of meeting and convergence.
Find out more about the events in this theme.


Four important exhibitions will illustrate Matera from the past to the future.
Ars Excavandi, part of the Utopias and Dystopias theme, was inaugurated on 19 January. This journey through the rock ecosystems of the world explores art and excavation which have given rise to underground landscapes, architecture and civilisations over the centuries.
The Renaissance seen from the South, part of the Reflections and Connections theme which will open in Matera on 19 April. Matera, southern Italy and the Mediterranean between the 15th and 16th centuries. A change of perspective, a new look at the Renaissance. 180 works from the most prestigious Italian and European museums.
The Poetry of Primes, part of the Ancient Future theme, will be on display from 21 June to 31 October at the Archaeological Museums of Metaponto and Policoro, Antiquarium Tavole Palatine of Metaponto. The universal beauty of maths. Focus on Pythagoras, Basilicata’s famous son.
Stratigraphy. The Observatory of Anthropocene, part of the Reflections and Connections theme, explores the new geological era defined by man’s actions which, for better or for worse, have shaped our planet.

Buy the Matera 2019 Passport so you can become a temporary citizen of the European Capital of Culture 2019 and take part in all the events.
For just Euro 19, you can experience the magic of the city and take part in all the initiatives. 48 weeks of events, 800 artists and cultural operators from all over the world, more than 50 original cultural productions, 5 great mustn’t-miss exhibitions and much more!

For information, visit.