(CNN) — Today, it’s one of the most astonishing places in Italy — a city carved into a rugged hillside — but just a few years ago, Matera was branded a national disgrace.
Many residents still remember when the city had a reputation for squalor and its residents made their homes in dark grottoes that in some cases were originally used by their ancestors 9,000 years ago.
Shared with barnyard animals, these caves were riddled with disease leading to appalling mortality rates until the government began forcibly relocating inhabitants in the 1950s.
In recent years, this ancient city has seen a dramatic change of fortunes: many of the grottoes were renovated and the Instagrammable area is now home to restaurants, shops and hotels.
But Matera still retains an unspoilt charm and offers a unique cityscape.
Rome-based photographer Federico Scarchilli made the city’s pale stone walls the subject of his latest photography project.
“I’m trying to explore this stone as as an element,” Scarchilli tells CNN Travel. “I found in Matera, something really inspiring.”
In 1993, UNESCO granted the city World Heritage status and the city has been named a European Capital of Culture 2019.
Scarchilli was intrigued by Matera’s history and cultural landscape.
“Matera is one of the oldest cities in Italy, it comes from the Paleolithic and up to the Middle Ages,” he says.
Its ancient history means the city has a plethora of artistic and cultural heritage spots.
“It’s full of art especially inside the Rock Churches,” adds the photographer.
Dating back hundreds of centuries, these incredible grotto churches are adorned with colorful frescoes depicting biblical scenes.
These interiors form the subject of some of the most striking of Scarchilli’s images, which typically overexpose the city to enhance its bright color palette.
The photographer also recommends looking at the panoramic views of the city from Murgia, a hill opposite the ravine over which Matera stands.