Matera: Handle With Care

It’s probably ten years since I’ve watched Fellini’s Roma, but one scene that always stayed with me finds workers at the laboriously slow task of digging underground train lines for the city. Every few metres they will hit another bit of Ancient Rome, and labour grinds to a halt for 18 months while the archaeologists get in there. The workmen drill through a wall and find they have opened up a huge Roman house, sealed for millennia. There are statues and mosaic floors. Every wall is lined with beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from Roman life in the boldest, most vibrant colours. They walk around shining their torches and looking stupefied, as well they might. As they do so the air from outside makes contact with the frescoes, all of which fade and dissolve before their eyes. They get around two minutes with these magnificent treasures, then they are gone forever. Matera reminded me of that scene.

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