Matera: the crypt of the wonders

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In the morning, when you wake up, the view over the Sassi where the Cathedral dedicated to the Madonna della Bruna looms over,is priceless. Then, through the stairs carved in the stone and twisted around a small courtyard, you reach the room for a generous breakfast. We are at the B&b Arturo, greeted by Monica and Arturo Fabiano, happy also to accommodate our four-legged Arturo: here everything is in the name of peace and the heart that is the symbol chosen for the sign and is everywhere.

Reached Piazza del Sedile, a tour of the workshops is a must, accompanied by the notes of the music coming from the windows of the Conservatory. Geppetto draws our attention (Piazza del Sedile 19, +39 331 857 0835 – ilsedilegeppetto@virgilio.it): from afar it looks like an ordinary gift shop but once you enter it and start chatting with Marco Brunetti, former lawyer now craftsman, you discover a whole and elegant world that revolves around the artifact and especially on the cuccù, the terracotta whistle symbol of the city.


After the glutton break based on a platter of cold cuts and cheese accompanied by a glass of Aglianico at L’Arturo’s, a delicatessen and wine bar where both the tables and the gargantuan counter are literally assaulted at lunchtime (Piazza del Sedile 16, +39 339 3907068,opening time: from 10 to 15.30 – 18.30 to 23.30 closed on Sundays), it is worth to take a trip in the neighborhood to fully enjoy the enchantment of these places. And move towards the Gravina Picciano, where in Contrada Pietrapenta there is a small gem: the Crypt of the Original Sin, also known as the Cave of the Hundred Saints. The visit is possible only by appointment (Cooperativa Synchronos +39 320 3345323 – www.criptadelpeccatooriginale.it) because the site is located within the private property if the Dragone family. Situated along the ancient Appian Way and discovered in 1963, it was recently restored by the Foundation Zetema of Matera under the expert dvice of the Institute for Conservation and Restoration. It is considered one of the oldest examples of rock art in Southern Italy and is often known as the medieval “Sistine Chapel”. The scenes from the Old and New Testament were painted in the first half of the ninth century AD according to the typical features of the Benedictine art from Benevento. They are painted on limestone treated with a base of mortar on an alabaster base by an anonymous artist known as the Painter of Flowers of Matera.

The visit is made even more impressive by a guided tour that alternates light and sound gradually revealing the wall paintings. On the back wall stands out the biblical account of the early chapters of Genesis: God the Father Creator, the Light, the Darkness, the creation of Adam, the birth of Eve, the temptation and the Original Sin, whose fruit is not the apple but the fig. There are only five paintings in the world where this fruit represents the “malum”, that because of errors of transcription and translation has become the apple: in the cathedrals of Trani and Otranto, in the cathedral of Monreale and in the fresco of the Sistine Chapel. The story of Creation then leaves space in the three basins in the apse, to the beautiful triarchies of the Apostles Peter, Andrew and John, of the the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael and the veneration of the Virgin Queen, Empress Maria Celeste reminding the Lombard Teodora of Ravenna. Another very important detail is that of the six fingers, the “polydactyly”, present in the paint of depictions of Peter and of the archangel Michael to represent human imperfection in contrast with the divine perfection.
A set of figures and symbols, such as red flowers that frame all the figures, that really leaves you speechless and suggests how rich the patrons of this work should be. An amazingly modern work created 500 years before the frescoes of Giotto in Assisi.

(Traduzione di Monia Saponaro)