Sassi de Matera vus d'en haut de la ville

Matera, 5:45 pm: presentation of a book and a collection of recorded interviews

On Monday, October 9, 2023, at 5:45 PM, at the University of Basilicata, the MMSH Phonothèque (Sound Archives) will be in Matera to promote the book Sassi e memoria : etnografie per un archivio delle voci (2022) edited by Ferdinando Mirizzi and Vita Santoro. This event provides an opportunity to highlight the oral testimonies collected for the project I-DEA – Matera 2019.

Lire le billet en langue française / Leggere il post in italiano

couverture du livre Sassi e memoria In 2019, the city of Matera, Italy, was named “European Capital of Culture 2019.” This project, led by architect Joseph Grima, had a two-fold focus: the creation of an open design school and the establishment of a Demo-Etno-Anthropologico institute (I-DEA) dedicated to an ethnological museum in the region and the district of the “Sassi” in Matera. This district had been qualified by Italian Prime Minister  Alcide De Gasperi  in the 1950s as a “national shame” due to the miserable living conditions of its inhabitants. They lived in troglodyte dwellings, carved into the stone on the edge of a ravine (the “Sassi”) without light, running water or sewage. Law No. 619 of 17 May 1952, known as the “De Gasperi Law,” mandated the evacuation of the some 15,000 people living in the Sassi and their relocation.

As part of Matera 2019, the I-DEA project aimed to create “archives on archives” based on the testimonies of former inhabitants. Katia Ballacchino and Vita Santoro collected 51 interviews from 24 women and 24 men born between 1919 and 1953 with various occupations: lawyers, librarians, employees, blacksmiths, masons, laborers, farmers, poets in regional languages for the men, and farmers, seamstresses, teachers, homemakers for the women. The ages of the witnesses range from 70 to 100 years old.

 At the time of recording, no one lived in the Sassi district anymore.
The interview uses a semi-directive method drawing on personal narratives to address early childhood in the Sassi, infant mortality, age of schooling and education (most witnesses only attended elementary school), life in the caves – humidity, overcrowding, proximity to animals -, resilience and adversity, as well as neighbourhood solidarity, exhausting tasks like carrying water, relationships between men and women, marriage and married life. The interview concludes with their memories of the evacuation from the caves, with those who were happy to leave or, on the contrary, those who did not want to. Finally, there is discussion about what became of these places after the 1950s, often occupied by marginalized populations, prostitution or crime, and the current sense of belonging to the city of Matera.

A scientific cooperation agreement between the DICEM (Department of European and Mediterranean Cultures) of the University of Basilicata and the Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l’homme (MMSH) signed on 14 January 2022 commits the Research Archives/Sound Archive sector of the Social Sciences and Humanities Media Library of the MMSH  to cataloging, archiving, providing access to, and preserving in the long term the recordings made within the scope of the project. Mara Bertelsen, archivist, is currently cataloguing the fonds.

Access records

Title: Collection, cataloguing, archiving, and digitisation of memorial documents and oral testimonies for the purpose of creating the first exhibit of the I-DEA (2018-2020).

Presentation location : Via Lanera, 20, Matera, Aula Magna of the Matera University Campus

Collection date: 2018-2020

Data format: Digitally native oral collection recorded and filmed, accompanied by 288 photographs of the witnesses. 51 interviews. For each interview, there is a audio file in wav format and a video file in MP4 format, systematically accompanied by a transcription in Italian and two chrono-thematic sheets in English and Italian (PDF A format). Each witness is photographed with at least one portrait. File sizes: 34.7 GB in wav format 44.1khz/16bits, 92.2 GB in mp4 format, 490 MB in jpg format.

Past blog posts on the Matera 2019 project: (15 February 2017) and (8 September 2017), (3 February 2022).

Suggested reading: Véronique Ginouvès, “Snatches of sound archives or the wonder of listening to a collective memory accessible to the world – reflection”,  in Sassi e memoria : etnografie per un archivio delle voci,  edited by  Ferdinando Mirizzi and Vita Santoro, Matera: Graficom Edizioni, 2022, 195p.


View of the Bradano and the streets of the Sassi di Matera, February 2017, photograph by V. Ginouvès, CC-BY-NC-SA.

Citer ce billet
Mara Bertelsen (2023, 5 octobre). Matera, 5:45 pm: presentation of a book and a collection of recorded interviews. Archives de la recherche & Phonothèque. Consulté le 16 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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