Matera is famous for its ancient cave dwellings, known as Sassi, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There is evidence that people were living in the Sassi as early as the year 7000 BC and the caves are still used today, attracting thousands of tourists each year.
The Festa della Bruna is another example of Matera’s rich history, and dates back to 1389 upon the proposal of Pope Urban VI.
The festival is a tribute to Matera’s patron saint and protectress, the Madonna della Bruna, and draws thousands of locals into the streets for a week-long celebration featuring fireworks, market stalls, traditional music, dancing and processions.
The main festivities commence at dawn on July 2, with the shepherds’ procession, originally for the pastori who were unable to participate in the festa as they were busy tending their herds.
The shepherds wander through the city’s streets and down to the Sassi, stopping at each piazza and church as they go.
In the Sassi, a painting of the Madonna della Bruna, accompanied by those devoted to her, is honoured with fireworks and peasant music.
An extravagant handmade papier-mâché chariot, inspired by a different chapter from the Bible each year, is then paraded around the town in the evening carrying a statue of the Madonna della Bruna.
Adorned with colourful fresh flowers, the carro trionfale is drawn by eight mules and preceded by dozens of horsemen in velvet cloaks, a marching band, the archbishop, bishop and clergy.
The chariot finally arrives in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, where the statue of the Madonna della Bruna is removed and the crowd of spectators rips the papier-mâché float to pieces in a wild frenzy.
It is considered good luck if you manage to grab a part of the chariot amid the chaos.
Once the excitement has died off, locals rush to the best vantage point to view the dramatic fireworks display which marks the end of the event for another year.