One of the “new” reality of Matera is the city under the city. In December of last year was presented to the public that from the very beginning has been called the belly of Matera: an underground ambience came to light, after about three years of excavations around the corner from Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the main city, which it was given the evocative name of MateraSum.
MateraSum: I’m Matera
A name can have two meanings: from English, Silence under Matera; from Latin I’m Matera. We prefer the latter because what today you can visit underground and representing MateraSum, a distance of 1,200 meters in area, is a real underground city, above which other streets and buildings only in the eighteenth century were built. Before that everything was in the open air: houses, roads, tanks, places of worship carved into the rock.
In this wonder is accessed by an alley which comes out in the course XX Settembre by an anonymous door that conceals a steep staircase leading to a large underground space that until the second half of 1700 was characterized by streets and squares, houses and shops. The visit of the city, not suited to those who suffer from claustrophobia, winds through spaces excavated into the tuff well lit today, which retain traces of life at that time.
But first things first. Virginia, who accompanies us, invites us to watch a video made by Rvm service, with texts by Sergio Palomba and voice actor reciting Massimo Lanzetta, showing the city of Sassi and Hypogeum with an extraordinary flight path a bird’s eye filmed by a drone.
Then, leads us among the great spaces now closed by high brick vaults on which from 1855 rises Malvezzi Palace, the name of a family of landowners Bologna’s origin that here decided to build his second home for the convenience of being more easily accessible from the first near the Duomo. Initially this was only known space and time used for various purposes: the Malvezzi used it as a warehouse for their grain, but earlier in this we can imagine how a square overlooked houses cut into the rock like those we visited in the Sassi, workshops, a bakery which still today you can see the mouth and the interior dome and an ice house, a cave destined to deposit the snow that collected winter alternating with layers of straw that had insulating function, and used in warm weather to cool food and drink. Then these great spaces were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War and in the late 70s and early 80s of the last century even as a dance hall called “Il tempo delle mele”.
Digging, then, workers have found that the underground space extended far beyond the foundations of the building: in three years were three thousand cubic meters of ground extracted from about 24 people who worked in precarious conditions, on all fours and with alternating oxygen masks every quarter hour in six teams. Exhausting work carried out by digging by hand using only the “cannons” which led into warm air to dry the wet ground and pull more easily. This has brought to light what is now possible to visit: a whole portion of Matera remained hidden until now.
Dr. Antonella Caruso, who in the meantime has replaced Virginia as our guide, explains us that the spaces in which we roam are those of an old warehouse of medieval origin, where salesmen had their warehouses and their accommodation, and where often there was a church. It remains a place of worship are actually visible and what is striking is the height of the walls. But in reality these sites originally were not as deep: the excavations are successive and contemporary with the construction of the building that was built precisely with the material obtained from here.
Proof of this are those that at first glance seem stairs and instead are cuts that “cavamonti” then carried out to the tuff search more brittle and therefore easier and less labor intensive to extract. The route ends with a cave where puddles on the floor and constant dripping reveal the presence of a very humid place. Here the workers and the owners have stopped … for now.
A lot of these places have yet to be told after the study which will be submitted in order to determine with more certainty ages and chronological sequences of these structures exploited through a very long time.
Meanwhile, you can slip into the bowels of the earth in Matera and go through the entire ride with an entrance fee of 5 Euros. The site is open from 9:30 to 19:30, but have provided much broader times during the summer season. Reservations for guided tours: tel. +39 331 1054031 – www.ipogeomaterasum.it – firstname.lastname@example.org.