The southern city of Matera in Basilicata was picked last week as European Culture Capital 2019.
Known as "la città sotterranea" (the Subterranean City), Matera is famous for its UNESCO-listed historical center, called "Sassi", and for the Park of the Rupestrian Churches.
The Sassi, houses dug into calcareous rock, originate from a prehistoric settlement, and are believed to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. In the 1950s, the people that lived in thoese houses, some of which resembled to caverns, were transferred to modern quarters, while the Sassi underwent complex restoration work to return them to their original beauty. Matera, nicknamed “the second Bethlehem”, has impressed and attracted writers, artists and directors for a long time; the most famous example may be Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, which was filmed there.
“I am confident that Matera will attract more visitors from Europe and all over the world to discover the city, its history and the cultural diversity which is one of strengths of our continent,” European Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said. “I am convinced that the title will bring Matera and its surrounding area significant long-term cultural, economic and social benefits, as we have seen with previous European Capitals of Culture.”
Matera beat Cagliari, Lecce, Perugia-Assisi, Ravenna and Siena.