Culture Programme
Education and Culture DG
Progetto Ricerca Interesse Nazionale
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CRHIMA - CINP project

Cultural Rupestrian Heritage in the Circum Mediterranean Area

Common Identity - New perspective

Universitas Florentina



Knowledge, Conservation and Improvement of HAbitat RUpestrian MEditerranean

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General Framework

The rupestrian habitat is a distinctive element of the Mediterranean landscape. It is made of structures excavated in the rocks and located from the Anatolian tablelands to the Egyptian deserts (Nubia), from Ethiopia to Tunisia, from the Balkans to Italy, France and Spain.

Within that anthropological and ethnographic framework, the cave is the 'common house' of the Mediterranean culture. The medieval caves - rupestrian houses and churches - characterize the landscape of Puglia and Basilicata, in Southern Italy (the Sassi of Matera, the cities of Massafra, Mottola, Laterza, Ginosa, Gravina, Altamura, Fasano, Bari), Cappadocia, in Turkey (the area of Nevsehir and the underground cities of Kaymakli, Derinkuyu, Urgup, Golsehir, the well-known Goreme Valley), Spain (the 'eremitorios' in Cantabria and Rioja, in the Ebro High Valley an the Basc Provincies, the rupestrian neighbourhood of Sacromonte, in Granada), Greece (the Islands of Cefalonia, Thira, Nasso, Rodi, the Epiro region) and the Loira Valley until Saumur in France. All these settlements represent the 'micro-cells' of the wider Mediterranean rupestrian habitat in which is possible to find common and different aspects.

In Europe there are several information about the Christian rupestrian architecture in the Mediterranean area, thanks to the studies about the Byzantine churches and their frescoes. But few is known about the Islamic one: there are mosques excavated in the rocks in Turkey, Northern Africa and even in Sicily. In addition, there are some synagogues in Lybia, sepulchral monuments and temples which date back to the years before the Christian era (Hittitian, Egyptian, Etruscan, Hellenistic and early Christian structures).

In recent times, interest about the rupestrian villages has raised, too. The great number was leaved around the XIV century, but in some of them people have continued to live until the middle of the last century, as in Matera and Palagianello, in Cappadocia and in the still-populated neighbourhood of Sacromonte, in Granada.

Considered for a long time as symbols of poor life, to be forgotten, now they are submitted to the first scientific studies, in particular since the UNESCO has recognized the Cappadocia settlements and the city of Matera as humanity's cultural heritage. There are lively studies about these kind of settlements, but unfortunately the exchange of information among the Countries is poor. In addition, monographic studies are rare: there are only two studies about some settlements in Southern Italy and none about the ones in Cappadocia, on which only information for tourist purposes are available. Furthermore, there isn't a census of the rupestrian architectonic heritage in the Mediterranean area. In the past years, the cultural unity of the rupestrian settlements has been, in some cases, damaged or destroyed, and their relevance as a sort of open 'eco-museum' hasn't been valued. The damages produced by the human beings are increased by the natural deterioration process, due to the action of weather agents. That process is patent in the Cappadocian settlements, made of tufaceous rocks subjected to an harmful corrosive action.

For these reasons the project aim to promote the conservation and the development in using of these site through recommendations of new perspective: infact any partner will contribute with their experience and research to determine the existence of a broad continuity in materials and construction practices of the various regions that frame the Mediterranean. The continuity and measurability of rupestrian heritage, in terms of buildings and urban structures, is the result of deep social and cultural interrelation of those territory, and reserves a concerted effort to preserve these cultural variables common to the neighbouring countries.

This project moves to increase, through different experiences and researches on these dwellings carved into the rock and by some cultural innovative products and communication tools the interest of scientific community and of local and regional administrator in order to define new and suitable lines of development.

The rupestrian Heritage is a cultural hallmark in many populations of the Mediterranean regions which can contribute to involve common European identity and stimulate the intercultural dialogue between populations and religions.

The rupestrian settlement have shared a common Christian culture during the Byzantine Empire, a culture that some Countries have maintained and adapted to the following Islamic civilization, producing a cultural connection in which the evidences and relations of the past have always been important. In the framework of the strengthening cultural cooperation among the five Mediterranean States involved in the project, it stands out the peculiar history of relations between Greece and Turkey. The clash between the Greek and Turkish people has also affected the rupestrian villages of Cappadocia, where at the beginning of the XX century the organization of the Turkish nationalist movement of Mustafà Kemal and the subsequent birth of the national Turkish state led to the expulsion of the Orthodox communities that had been living there during the previous eight centuries. The expulsion caused the lost of memory about the cultural Christian heritage in Turkey.

Nowadays, it's important to strengthen the inter-religious relations between the Islamic and Christian religion, basing on the memory of the peaceful life that have characterized for centuries the relations between Turkish and Greek people and the two religions, which have found just in Cappadocia the environment and the inspiration for mystic phenomena as the Christian hermits and the Islamic dervishes.