A few years ago I went with a friend to the region of Basilicata (originally Lucania) in southern Italy. This was prompted to some degree by the fact that neither of us had been there before, and we were curious about this area, well off the usual tourist track. Also, I had been reading CarloLevi’s book “Christ stopped at Eboli”.
Lucania was one of the poorest and least developed areas of the south of Italy, a barren, rugged swampy region where malaria was rife and Levi’s very lucid account of the daily hardships suffered by the impoverished peasants of the south in the days of Mussolini eventually led to improvements in the living conditions.
Matera is said to be one of the world’s oldest towns. It is sited on the side of a deep ravine, where the caves that dotted the gorge were adapted to become dwellings in palaeolithic times. And the inhabitants remained. The settlers dug into the rock, creating dwellings in the rock, one on top of another, saving space (the Caveoso). Over time, they created an ingenious system of canals to collect water and regulate the flow of sewage.
The problems came as the population increased, and people were living in crowded conditions in unsuitable, unhygienic one-room cave dwellings, lacking running water. Poverty in this region of Italy was rife, and malaria endemic. By the 1950s more than half of Matera’s population still lived in the sassi, and families often had six or more children. Because of the grim conditions, infant mortality was high, around 50%. Eventually, as a result of publicity by such people as Carlo Levi, the authorities acted and relocated thousands of inhabitants to new government housing schemes.
In the museum of Matera, there is a large painting by Levi, showing a scene from peasant life…..very sobering. I took two images of sections of the painting, as I couldn’t find any postcards or books:
This next image is from La Raccolte delle Aqua in Matera – the old system of water collection used to provide to the entire population of the Caveoso with sufficient water for their daily living. The system of communicating vessels allowed rainwater to collect from roofs, streets, and the surrounding hills, and is now open with a walkway for tourists to see the sheer scale of this. Absolutely incredible.
And the next couple of images show the tumble of dwellings down the ravine:
,,,and here is an old cave dwelling, abandoned now:
Dotted about the town are some renovated caves, turned into hotel rooms, and my friend and I stayed in one.
This post was inspired by Cathy at Wanderessence, who said “post a thematic post about a place: photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels”