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Matera

Matera becomes the 2019 European capital of culture

Premier says new chapter for South 'starts here'

Matera becomes the 2019 European capital of culture

Matera, January 21 - Matera has inaugurated its year as European capital of culture in 2019 - the first southern Italian city to be granted this recognition. The opportunity is "an occasion for the whole South", said Premier Giuseppe Conte at the opening ceremony held at the weekend in the city's Auditorium della Cava del Sole. "As a southern man and premier" Bari-born Conte expressed confidence that Matera's year as cultural capital will be an occasion "for the whole South so that the future can be here", promising fresh investments and a "a contract of development for Basilicata", the city's region. Once one of Europe's poorest cities, Matera became internationally renowned when writer Carlo Levi was exiled by Benito Mussolini's fascist regime to a town nearby in 1935, describing in his novel Christ Stopped at Eboli the extreme poverty he witnessed. Conte quoted Levi at the inauguration ceremony - "Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awe-struck, so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty", citing the writer's Le Mille Patrie (A Thousand Homelands). Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli said the European capital of culture could "become a new model of development for the whole South". Bonisoli met with Tibor Navracsics, the European commissioner for culture, before reaching Cava del Sole on which the ministry has invested five million euros so it can host events this year, the minister said. The culture minister also said that talks are ongoing with Milan's La Scala Theater "to organize something in Matera", speaking about the possibility of staging short opera productions "that last about an hour instead of three". Conte has also said that the government will invest in projects that are "sustainable, innovative and plausible". "This must be the starting point for a wider project for the entire south", the prime minister explained. Large crowds of residents turned out to celebrate the occasion for the city, known for the grottoes where families used to live, the Sassi (stones) carved out of the limestone that date back to Matera's prehistoric age. UNESCO in 1993 declared the Sassi, once a symbol of the city's extreme poverty, a world heritage site. Mayor Raffaello De Ruggieri said that with its debut as European capital of culture Matera is shifting from "shame to redemption".

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