Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 19, 2018 shows troglodyte setllements in the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. - / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 19, 2018 shows the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 18, 2018 shows a general view of the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 19, 2018 shows a religious fresco in an ancient cave dwelling, a troglodyte settlement known as "Sassi", in the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 19, 2018 shows visitors walking towards the cave church Madonna de Idris (Rear C) in the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. - / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 19, 2018, the Madonna delle Virtu cave church and its ancient frescoes are pictured in the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 19, 2018 shows a delivery tricycle in front of the Matera Cathedral in the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. - / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 18, 2018 shows the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. - / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 19, 2018 shows visitors in the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride
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(FILES) This file photo taken on October 19, 2018 shows a general view taken from a cave of the southern Italian city of Matera, which has been selected as the 2019 European capital of culture. / AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
Updated 30 December 2018

Italy's city of shame Matera becomes Europe's pride

Fifty years after Italy's Matera was a national embarrassment because of its extreme poverty, the city is rescuing its dignity, baroque palaces and cave churches to become a European Capital of Culture.In the 1950s, prime minister Alcide De Gasperi, one of the EU's founding fathers, was outraged by Matera's underdevelopment, where many lived in ancient limestone caves without electricity or running water, lives ravaged by malaria.
Now, the city in the Basilicata region on the instep of Italy's boot, is hoping to draw thousands of visitors for cultural and heritage events, many inside the same caves, now renovated.
The city, one of the world's oldest, is known as the "Jerusalem of the West" thanks to its position perched on limestone rocks and ravines and its famous "sassi" cave homes.
Visitors pay 19 euros (around 22 dollars) to become "temporary citizens" of Matera, around 400 kilometres (250 miles) south of Rome, for a year.
The relatively isolated city, with no airport, high-speed train station or even a motorway, hopes visitors will be inspired by the mystical atmosphere to write, sculpt and create music or installations which will in turn become an exhibit.