Yes, the Capital of Culture for 2019, a UNESCO heritage, also holds this record. It is, in fact, on the podium as the oldest inhabited city in the world. At the top of this ranking, drawn up by the travel portal “Travel365“, is Aleppo, in Syria, with its 13,000 years. The silver medal goes to Jericho, in the West Bank, inhabited for 12,000 years. And on the lowest step, with 10,000 years, there’s you, Matera.
Never uninhabited cities
To be precise, these are the oldest cities inhabited since ever and forever. Cities that have resisted abuses, wars, conflicts, climatic adversities, but whose houses have never been uninhabited. By modernizing and transforming themselves over the centuries, they have welcomed generations and generations of people, reaching our days with an aura of magic and an inestimable value.
The other positions of this ranking are occupied by Çatalhöyük – Turkey with 9,500 years; Athens with its 7,000 years. Mesopotamia is ranked sixth and seventh with the cities of Ur and Uruk, with 6,000 and 5,000 years of age respectively. We have, then, the 4,500 years of Damascus, in Syria. The Holy City, Jerusalem, with its 4,000 is in ninth place. The Indian city of 3,500 years closes the list.
The birth of the third oldest inhabited city in the world
The first inhabited settlements of the Città dei Sassi date back, as we said, to about 10,000 years ago. The oldest villages of the Lucan city are inhabited continuously, from the Paleolithic to the present. This statement was supported by archaeological excavations thanks to which objects were found that testify to the presence of hunting populations already from that prehistoric period. The settlements became widespread and stabilized only in the Neolithic, from which the first signs of villages arrived. The origin of the name of the first inhabited village is, to this day, unknown.
The origin of the name of the third oldest inhabited city in the world
We do not know if Matera has always had this name or if it has taken on different names over time. However, scholars have focused on the analysis of the current one, trying to trace its origins.
It is known that in the Hellenic age many refugees fleeing from Metaponto and Heraclea found refreshment in the villages of Matera. Combining the first syllables of the names of their cities, they called what became their home. Therefore, Matera would derive from a filing of the term composed by Met + Hera.
In his Naturalis Historia (Liber III, 105), Pliny the Elder names the inhabitants of the place Mateolani. With this it seems to support the hypothesis that the city called Mateola.
This name in reference to the City of the Stones is also found in a register of the Roman consulate Quintus Cecilius Metellus Numidian under whose mandate Matera was rebuilt and surrounded by walls and towers.
Linguistic hypotheses on the name of the third oldest inhabited city
Other more purely linguistic hypotheses, instead, suggest that the root of the name is Mata, which means “heap of rocks”, “pile”, almost as if to describe the rocky environment in which the city rises.
Then there are those who suggest that it derives from the Greek Metèoron, or “starry sky“. The lights lit up between the stones, at night, give the impression of a sky full of stars.
Finally, the last proposal put forward on the origin and meaning of the name derives from the Latin Mather, “mother earth”.