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The Institute continues the series of evenings with American authors that speak about their ties with Italy presenting Michael Cunningham who will talk about Matera. Michael Cunningham is an American novelist and screenwriter. He is best known for his 1998 novel The Hours, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1999. Cunningham is a senior lecturer of creative writing at Yale University.

In recent years the fame of Matera has been in constant rise, not only after the shooting of Mel Gibson’s film, but also because in 1993 the city was declared World Heritage by Unesco and, recently, designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2019.

Matera is one of the oldest - perhaps even the oldest – among the cities of the world inhabited without interruptions from its foundation. Although it is impossible to determine the exact age, it certainly dates back to the Palaeolithic, the period in which humans began manufacturing stone tools. By the Bronze Age, Matera was already a flourishing city, dug in the course of time in a spur of calcareous rock that rises up on the surrounding countryside as a gigantic fist escaped from the bowels of the earth.

Many of the houses of Matera are caves and many of its buildings - or better, those that seem buildings - are simple facades, behind which you discover the caves. Matera is like an enormous hive, apparently solid from the outside but in reality consisting, for the most part, of galleries, tunnels and caves, sometimes placed one on top of the other to form a single dwelling. If most of the big cities trend today is to build buildings increasingly high, a witness of our attempts to get closer to heaven, Matera evokes a need more primordial, to dig in the earth to find embracing and protection.

Like most of the cities, even those thousand years younger, Matera has had its ups and downs. For over two hundred years capital of the Basilicata Region, she received the visit of Emperors and Archbishops. But there were also more difficult times. At the beginning of the Fifties, considering the poor living conditions, with the majority of the inhabitants still living in caves, without electricity and a sewer systems, a national law established the displacement of the Sassi and the construction, on hills rich in green, new and more comfortable residential districts.

The materani, however, were not well prepared to relocate. And preferred the (dis)advantages of their old houses, as generally has been in the history of man: apparently preferring the known to the new, even if the latter is technically a step forward.

Given the difficulties of life, it is not surprising that Matera tends toward religious devotion. The city hosts over one hundred and fifty churches, many of which also carved inside the rocks. Many are decorated with frescoes realized by anonymous painters, more than five hundred years before the birth of Giotto.


Date: Monday, January 23, 2017

Time: From 6:00 pm To 8:00 pm

In collaboration with : APT Basilicata

Entrance : Free


Italian Cultural Institute New York