Summer travels in Matera.

Matera’s urban and architectural heritage is exceptional by any standards, and utterly fascinating. Historically and spatially complex and literally multilayered, its oldest parts are called the Sassi: vertiginously stacked dwellings built into and extending out of the thousands of natural and semi-natural caves that make up Matera’s topography. Above and around the edges of the old Sassi lies the more ‘typically Italian’ part of town, and beyond this, the new town including those residential quarters to which the inhabitants of the Sassi were relocated in the 1950s and 60s, often forcibly so, for reasons of health and safety but also, interestingly, national and international politics (as P McGauley’s recent dissertation on Matera shows).

During my second visit to the region this summer, I had a chance to hear from locals who had spent their childhood in the Sassi what life was like there, fifty years ago, and talk to a participant of the Laboratorio di pratiche della conoscenza nei Sassi di Matera, an academic project and practical workshop for graduate students, led by the University of Basilicata, that aims at the detailed study of the architectural substance of the Sassi. Regeneration of the Sassi and other parts of town began in the 1990s and has accelerated over the past decade. Matera will be European Capital of Culture in 2019 and is on track to become a prime tourist destination as well as, I’d like to think, a favourite with architectural travellers, including students.

Dr Karin Jaschke.