Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Cave dwelling with a difference

September always starts with a roar as we struggle to meld the soft patina of summer holidays in to the quickened reality of autumn commitments.  It is a month that demands a poised diary as every day is a mixture of deadlines, design events and new projects.  Feeling a bit like a Formula One Driver who can't slow down enough for the next chicane, part of me longs for the simple pleasures of summer, so I thought it might be worth a last look over our shoulders as we hurtle into autumn...

When on the super fast track, my thoughts most often turn backwards to a time and place where things moved necessarily much more slowly.  The ancient city of Matera, in southern Italy, is a place filled with constant reminders of ancient times, where in the sassi, the most ancient area of this fantastical place, the houses are carved into the soft tuff rock, cave dwellings, where these bizarrely hewn hollows have been continuously lived in for many thousands of years, as long ago as 15,000BC.

Ancient frescoes in the Crypt of Original Sin near Matera

Carved out of Tuffa, the ancient dwellings of Matera

The Museum in Matera, a series of galleries clothed in these incredibly rich faded frescoes 

A family in Matera before the government stepped in and moved them to public housing

A pair of timber doors recede into the scene

In our ever present curiosity about the world, we have turned even these most humble dwellings into modern fantasies of the simple life.  In the eighties, residents who had left as children came back as squatters and stayed as hoteliers with a twist.  A shining example of this is pictured below. Tony Perottett, in a winter issue of The Smithsonian, says, "You know that travellers tastes have come full circle when they are clamouring to live like troglodytes".  Whilst there is a shred of truth in this statement, I don't think the troglodytes would have enjoyed the luxuries of plunge baths, concierge service, starched linens and gourmet peasant cuisine on tap!   We have moved on a bit from the days of Dynasty where couture shoulder pads jostled with bottles of Cristal on Concorde to arrive in time for a party in the Carribean…  There are scores of eco holidays available worldwide where we applaud the reed bed drainage system, try to use the same towels all day to ease the burden of water usage and sing the praises of local cuisine.  It is big, responsible business.  I think it is more than a reaction to our wanton wastefulness in the seventies.  I think it is the body and spirit truly craving a closer proximity to the natural world.  And I think it is lovely.

A bedroom at Le Grotte della Civita in Matera, beautiful and authentic yet far more luxurious than any local would have experienced...

Therein lies my fascination with Matera.  Part of me yearns for a simpler life.   My own getting closer to the natural, primeval world was camping in Cornwall this summer, lingering late over the glowing embers of the campfire watching the sun set then stars emerge, or on the rainy nights cosy in the tent with a cup of tea and my book by torchlight.  Rising with the sun and slowing down as it set.  That is luxury in our post industrial world and it is also coming full circle.

A day at Lantic Bay

My Dream tent, courtesy of Ananbo Papier Peint Panoramique

1 comment:

  1. Immensely enjoyed your writing here as well as an introduction to the frescoes in Matera. Thank you! Beth