The long wait is finally over as on Saturday, 19 January, the wraps were finally whipped off Matera, the European Capital of Culture for 2019. After Florence in 1986, Bologna in 2000 and Genoa in 2004, the eyes of the whole of Europe will be on this fascinating city in the Basilicata region as it hosts a 12-month-long festival featuring 50 original productions, four major exhibitions and 1,500 other events. Matera is also the first Southern Italian city to succeed in becoming the European Capital of Culture.
“We started out as being a national disgrace, and now here we are Europe’s Capital of Culture,” declared an emotional Mayor Raffaello De Ruggieri during the official opening ceremony, quoting the famous phrase uttered by the Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti in 1948 in condemnation of the extreme poverty and degradation of the City of Stones. The Stones in question, of course, refer to the Matera’s ancient cave dwellings which were abandoned in the 1950s and then slowly refurbished before finally being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. A model of rebirth and sustainable development in one of the world’s most ancient cities after Aleppo in Syria and Jericho on the West Bank which Europe has now chosen to acknowledge and Enel to support.
“Matera is an example of what the hard work and ingeniousness of a community can achieve,” explained the Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who arrived in the evening to open the event. “The City of Stones was a place of both heartrending beauty and heartrending poverty in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, but today it is being presented to Europe by Italy to demonstrate that even ancient history can help us open the doors to a better future.”
Culture as Open Future
But what concept of culture lies at the heart of Matera 2019? “Open Future” is the theme that will act as the leitmotif linking all the events designed to turn the spotlight on the city. A forward-looking gaze underpinned by the conviction that culture does not have to fall back on the past but instead should innovate, include and open up to the world.
“An idea that chimes perfectly with Enel’s Open Power concept,” explains our Group’s Director of Communications Roberto Deambrogio. “Opening up to the outside to embrace all the opportunities such a rapidly changing world might afford. Culture as an instrument of inclusion and a driver of sustainable development through which communities can grow and improve.”
The theme of Matera Open City also marked out the various phases of the official opening ceremony which lasted the entire day. The celebrations began at Cava del Sole in the morning with a concert featuring seven local music bands and seven others from Europe (Open Sounds). They were later joined by more European brass bands and invaded the city’s various quarters (Open City) where the doors of schools, homes, parishes and associations had been thrown open to the public. At sunset, the Sasso Barisano, one of the two Stones in the old town, was lit by thousands of torches (Open Lights) as two polyphonic choirs performed in front of the Cathedral that dominates the city from on high. A “starry, starry sky” that acted as a brilliant counterpoint to the high-tech Lumen and Social Light installations created by light designer Giovanna Bellini, and inspired by the South of Italy’s ancient tradition of illuminations revisited as Google map pointers. Matera locals were involved in the preparations for this particular event in classes held in schools and workshops. The projects were supported by Enel and gave a taste of the festival’s meaning: continuity between past and future, the culture of the local area married with innovation, the active involvement of its inhabitants. Around half of the Matera 2019 projects will be the work of cultural associations from Basilicata and will involve 3,000 residents, 117 artists and curators as well as a hundred or so international partners.
A good 80 per cent of the programme will be made up of original productions and world premieres. At least five events will add colour to the city each and every day of 2019. These will include visits to exhibitions, live shows, guided garden tours, dining in the company of local people, interactive installations, conferences, workshops and documentaries.
Culture is the energy that fires up communities, enriches them and helps them grow. Culture withers and dies without energy. As Europe’s City of Culture, Matera will be a city open to curiosity, meetings, discovery. A project that brilliantly reflects the ethos of our Group which was determined to be there physically also through an art installation featuring a backlit cube that represents in images the values we share with Matera 2019: beauty, innovation and sustainability.