In Matera, there were immense hygienic problems after World War II, which favored diseases such as malaria and put child mortality at 44%. This problem was only created by bricking with the sewage system that led into the river to create housing. As a result, the wastewater was no longer sufficiently removed and vermin polluted the water system.
The Italian writer Carlo Levi made these conditions a theme in his novel “Christ only came to Eboli” in 1944. That led to an outcry across the country in the fledgling Italian republic and was said to be ashamed across Italy of the conditions among which people in Matera had yet to live. The government in Rome then pushed through a drastic measure, letting the Sassi in Matera completely clear, so that the entire area had run out of apartments. 30,000 people were forcibly moved to modern housing in the 1950s. By 1968, the relocation had been completed, the Sassi were cordoned off and the grottoes were decayed. Children used the grounds – unlawfully – as an adventure playground.
It was not until 1986 that the Sassi were rediscovered and listed. In the 1990s, restoration began and restaurants, museums, B & B, artists ‘ workshops and hotels in the Sassi were built, so that today it is possible to recreate the feeling of life of yore under modern circumstances.
In 1993, another turn took place towards a better future: The Sassi of Matera were declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. In the meantime, around 3000 people live and work there again – most of whom live from tourism, and museums, bars and trattorias have sprung up in the alleyways.