To tell the story of the Grotto-House in Vico Solitario, in the Sassi of Matera, we can use the comments jotted down by Cesare Brandi (1906-1988) when he visited Sasso Caveoso in the 1950s, just as people in Italy had started debating whether to tear down the Sassi or not. At the time, some proposed to completely renovate the rundown homes in Basilicata’s town – which were instead evacuated in 1952, by special law signed by Italian president De Gasperi.
“Once we went down into Sasso Caveoso, the medieval tone of the structures above became stronger and more precise. I was truly surprised by the beauty and ancient nobility of this old hamlet, which is one of the oldest and best preserved in Italy […]. It is a small village made up mostly of gothic buildings, with stone staircases outside, structures jutting out slightly from short shelves, pointed arches and vaults.”
“In the back of these small houses, at the opposite side of the room,” Brandi continues, “more rooms open up into the rock. They are dark, smelly, with no light nor air except for what dribbles out of the first, external one.”
“Should people be allowed to live here?” the Siena-born historian and art critic wondered. “No, they should not. But should this extraordinary, almost intact example of medieval town planning, of humble yet incredibly authentic architecture be destroyed? Absolutely not. […] Because destroying culture is destroying the soul, to speak in a way that everyone will understand. And just like men cannot live on bread alone, they cannot live only in concrete houses” (C. Brandi, “Viaggi e scritti letterari”, Bompiani, Milan 2009).
The Grotto-House in Vico Solitario is history, culture, and a soul saved.