Shaped by encrusted layers of development spanning millennia, the southern Italian city of Matera is the ultimate palimpsest. Known as the Sassi, the majority of the ancient city is composed of thousands of structures carved into a limestone cliff and clinging to its walls. The resultant menagerie of forms possesses a surprising visual uniformity and an ineffable allure. Conversely, in the 1950s Matera also served as a crucible for Italian postwar urban and architectural theory, witnessed by the Neorealist, modernist expansion of the city that developed in aversion to the Sassi. In another about-face, the previously disparaged cave city has now been recast as a major tourist destination, UNESCO World Heritage Monument, and test subject for ideas and methods of preservation. Set within a sociopolitical and architectural history of Matera from 1950 to the present, this book analyses the contemporary effects of preservation on the city and surrounding province. More broadly, it examines the relationship between and interdependence of preservation and modernism within architectural thought. To understand inconsistencies inherent to preservation, in particular its effect of catalyzing change, the study lays bare planners' and developers' use of preservation, especially for economic goals and political will. The work asserts that preservation is not a passive, curatorial pursuit: it is a cloaked manifestation of modernism and a powerful tool often used to control economies. The study demonstrates that preservation also serves to influence societies through the shaping of memory and circulation of narratives.
Dr Anne Toxey is Director of Toxey/McMillan Design Associates, and Adjunct Professor, University of Texas at San Antonio, USA
'Anne Toxey guides the reader through a revelatory tour of this important site as it has been transformed both physically and ideologically, especially in recent years, by a potent mix of global capital, the E.U., tourism, and the values of world heritage itself. It is nothing less than a cultural history of preservation, arguably the first such endeavor of book length. Mining archival sources, the built environment, as well as scholarly, theoretical, and literary works, Toxey brings the complexities of this seemingly infinitely layered site into vivid focus with wonderfully literate prose.' Andrew M. Shanken, U.C. Berkeley, USA 'The Matera that is familiar to us through the writing of Carlo Levi and the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mel Gibson is rendered more nuanced, complex, and interesting in Toxey’s breathtaking study. Once abandoned, but now preserved and recognized by UNESCO, the unique sassi and the story of their regeneration will be of interest to urban planners, architects, preservationists, geographers, historians, and anthropologists alike. This study provides a terrific microhistory of Italian urbanism. The range of illustrations is reason enough to find a permanent place for this book on your shelf.' D. Medina Lasansky, Cornell University, USA 'Following World War II, the southern Italian town of Matera, partially nestled in a limestone ravine riddled with cave-like dwellings, achieved iconic status. Exquisitely photographed and poignantly described, it emblemized the misery and squalor, backwardness and decay, of one of Western Europe's poorest regions. Reformers, stung by Italy's shame and influenced by modernist principles of urban development, launched programs to demolish the sassi or caves, relocating their (peasant) inhabitants to apartment blocks in the periphery. Anne Parmly Toxey, architecture historian and skilled ethnographer, traces the social, economic, and political processes that, by the 1990s, led to a dramatically different