Matera, the European Capital of Culture for 2019, has derived big benefits from EU funding. Its cathedral – which had been closed for 10 years – was restored, returning a valued religious monument to the local community and leading to a boom in tourism. A total of €3 million was provided for the restoration, while a further €6 million has gone on infrastructure projects in the area, such as railway upgrades.
EU funds are indispensable for enhancing cultural heritage and making it more accessible, enabling people to enjoy it now and safeguarding it for the future. The EU provides these funds in various ways.
One way is through the Creative Europe programme, which supports cultural and creative enterprises in the 28 Member States in order to bring Europeans together through culture. Its budget for 2021-27 is expected to reach €1.85 billion. Italy is the fourth-largest beneficiary, with 180 projects having received a total of €41.2 million between 2014 and 2018.
Another is through European structural and investment funds. Since 2007, they have supported some 12,000 cultural heritage and tourism projects across Italy –including at Pompeii, the Fort of Bard, the Venaria Reale and L'Aquila to the tune of around €8.4 billion. These funds have come from EU and national sources such as the National Operational Programme on Culture, to which the EU has contributed €368.2 million. This programme aims at preserving major cultural sites in southern Italy, promoting good use of cultural resources and supporting small businesses and non-profit organisations working in the cultural field.
Chosen as the 2019 European Capital of Culture, Matera’s motto for the activities taking place throughout the year is ‘Open Future’. The goal is to use culture to build a future that binds people together, and to increase the number and diversity of people who actively participate in culture.
With thousands of events, workshops, walking tours, conferences and concerts running over 48 weeks, Matera is not only showcasing local arts and culture but is also inviting international artists and designers for networking, education and co-creation sessions.
The Basilicata region, in which Matera is located, boasts some 2,000 cultural and creative businesses, and tourists spent almost €210 million on cultural products and services in the region in 2017. Although that represents just 0.7% of the contribution of the cultural sector to Italy's GDP, it accounts for 38.3% of tourist expenditure in Basilicata.
Noted for its ‘sassi’ – stone caves used for human habitation from prehistoric times until the 1950s, Matera became the first city in southern Italy to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. In recent years, it has experienced a bigger rise in tourist numbers than any other Italian city, with more than 400,000 people visiting in 2017 – around double the 2014 rate.
The EU-funded restoration of Matera Cathedral, which reopened to the public in 2016 after 10 years of closure, has attracted many of these new visitors. Local craftsmen and 16 local businesses were involved in the project, which included important work to consolidate the cathedral’s interior and exterior using environmentally friendly methods. The restoration directly generated an estimated economic return of €2.5 million.
“The church has been returned to the faithful, the visitors and the community,” said Don Michele Leone, a priest of the Archdiocese of Matera-Irsina.
Work was split into two parts: the first covered the interior, the furniture and decorations, paths and the cleaning up of the exterior; the second focused on external features of the transept, the arches in the nave, the organ, the furniture in the presbytery, the sacramental chapel, the hall, the sacristy and the lighting in the frescoed chapels.
€3 million of EU funding went into the restoration of Matera Cathedral
16 local businesses were involved in the work, which directly generated an estimated economic return of €2.5 million
In 2017, a year after the reopening, the city received 447,721 visits, almost double the figure for 2014 (244,847)
Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country (53 as of 2017)