The pleasing winding paths of Sasso Barisano leading to Matera’s Museo-Laboratorio della Civiltà Contadina (Laboratory Museum of Peasant Life) do little to prepare you for the sensory overload as you walk in its doors. A smell of dust and mold greets you even before the ever-present proprietor/curator does.
Until you tune in details, you have an immediate sense of clutter. There is little sign that a professional museum curator has assembled the museum’s holdings. Rather, it feels as though all the attic trunks of this ancient city’s inhabitants were ravaged for peasant life artifacts and spilled out into impromptu displays.
Matera Museum of Peasant Culture Seems to be Omitted from Many Promotional Tourist Guides
Aha! This is why this museum doesn’t find its way onto the pages of many of the glitzy published brochures about Matera, the 2019 European Capital of Culture. That said, for history buffs especially, this is a treasure trove.
This writer/photographer team had the good fortune to get it on our radar as a recommended tour stop by Matera tour guide Amy Weideman, who aptly described it as “worthwhile”. Without frame of having visited one of the Matera cave museums describing the hardships and realities of yesteryear, the jumble of tools and other artifacts used by workmen and workwomen will likely stay unsorted cacophony.
Like many Matera Sassi structures that meld with caves, this 500 square meter museum also seems to keep stretching and stretching to give you vignettes told through artifacts – from shepherds to blacksmiths, to tailors, potters and more. Even the women who worked as professional mourners are given their photographic due!
If you are an English speaker with no Italian you can expect Donato Cascione, the proprietor/curator, to switch on a music track with some sort of English language intro as you walk in. Its low production value and doesn’t communicate much substance. Here and there you will find signs about one of the micro-displays in the museum. Some of these include descriptions that are meant to give you a flavor, for example of the womanizer barber, that feels more fiction that fact.
The two signs outside the museum, in English, however, strike this writer as both poetic and comprehensive. Our tip is to read these carefully both before you take in the museum and as you leave.