The European Capital of Culture for 2019 will be the Italian province of Basilicata. Normally this honor should bring pride to the local citizens, and also the prospect of tourists spending their euros.
But not everyone is enthralled with the prospect, including the Mayor Raffaello De Ruggieri. His blunt assessment: “We don’t want tourists.” We don’t want to be occupied by tourists.”
”Tourism, he explained, will deplete a city of its soul — and this city has a prehistoric soul.”
Matera, an ancient city of about 60,000 people, is perched on top of Italy’s high heel.“This city has been alive for 8,000 years,” he said. “But it has always been poor.”
Salvatore Adduce, President of the Matera Basilicata 2019 Foundation added: “I will be brutal: We do not want tourists. It should not be, ‘Let’s see a church and eat pasta and try those crunchy red peppers and leave a few pieces of plastic behind.I want people to have an experience that will change their lives, change the world,” he said.
“For the exhibitions next year, Matera will sell passes — 19 euros, good for one year. The visitors will be temporary cultural inhabitants, and they will be asked to leave a personal item behind. At the end of the year, these items will become their own exhibition.”
I personally have been to Basilicata, and Matera, numerous times. It may be the poorest region in Italy but it’s irresistible.
The caves or sassi as they are called of Matera are definitely worth a detour with magnificent views, especially at sunset as the oblique sunrays highlight the honeycomb of hundreds of caves. Caves that were inhabited until the 1950s when the Italian government decided the conditions were so unsanitary and unsafe that they condemned the city and forced all the occupants to move to newly constructed homes.
But over time, the caves have become in vogue with hotels and restaurants restoring the 1 or 2 room grottoes into fascinating places.
So we wish Basilicata, and Matera ‘Auguri’ on their status as European Culture Capital for 2019 and we hope tourists are respectful of the thousands of years of history and culture this area represents.