Matera, the town where men lived in caves

A new and fascinating journey has led us to the wonderful destinations, this time, in two different regions. We have visited magnificent places, each one close to the other (distant a handful of kilometers) between the regions of Basilicata and Puglia. Let's start by telling you the itinerary of our visit to Matera, the Rocky City and the European Capital of Culture for 2019.

Our itinerary then will follow then onto the enviable places of Apulia, where we visited Alberobello and Polignano a mare. We recommend you visiting these places by organizing a single itinerary!



As soon as we entered th town of Matera, overlooking the panoramic terrace "Luigi Gerricchio", we were astonished by the view that opened in our eyes!

The dense stratification of dwellings, courtyards, dance floors, church buildings, roads and gardens wisely set among them is a unique attraction in the world!

Matera is one of the oldest settlements in the world, and there are numerous testimonies dating back to the paleolithic era.

It is an extraordinary page written by man through the centuries that have succeeded in history.

Matera is by definition called "the city of the stones".

Originally, the urban nucleus developed from the natural caves dug into the rock, and only then the same caves were "molded" into increasingly complex structures. All this along a perimeter that extends into two great natural amphitheatres: the Sasso Caveoso and the Sasso Barisano.

Under the name "Sassi" (rocks, stones) in Matera, we commonly mean these two great neighborhoods (the Sasso Caveoso and the Sasso Barisano) plus the "Civita" and the "Piano". Alltoghether they compose the historical center of the city.

The plural declination of the name "rocks", therefore, derives from this duplicity and not (as many believe) from the fact that a dwelling within such divisions is called "rock".

The Sassi are located around and at the bottom of two valley groves, shaped by the ancient passage of water, channeled into the so-called "grabiglioni" at the bottom of the same.


Sasso Barisano, the richest in sculpted portals and friezes, hides an underground heart.

The Sasso Caveoso, in the middle ages known as "Mons Caveosus", is set just like the cave of a theater, with "cave-houses" crawling up the stairs.

Inside the two Sassi there are also various neighborhoods, districts, also with strange names. To divide the two valleys lies the steep cliff of the Civita, which houses the beautiful romanesque cathedral.

At the foot of Civita and at the upper edge of the Sassi lies the Piano, the post-medieval historical center, beyond which extends the contemporary Matera.

And finally, on the opposite side, in front, the Murgia plateau acts as a magnificent natural set in this scenery, with the numerous rock churches scattered along the slopes of the graves protected by the Natural and Historical Archaeological Park of the Materan Rocks Churches, also called "Parco della Murgia Materana".

The city of stone, the old town of Matera dug close to the ravine, was actually inhabited (as we said) at least from the Palaeolithic. Some of the rests found date back to the 13th millennium BC, and many of the houses that descend deeply into the gentle and thick limestone (calcarenite limestone)  have been lived without interruption since the Bronze Age (apart from forced displacement in the 1950s) .

sassi-4Walking through the historic center of Matera will not be difficult to come across splendid Renaissance and Baroque facades that open onto cisterns of the 8th century, transformed into homes: absolutely wonderful scenery!

It is not to be forgotten that Matera is an ambush of important movie sets. One amongst all: Mel Gibson set in the Sassi the exterior of "The Passion of Christ", a place that he considered to be "perfect" as the setting of Jerusalem.

In 1993 Matera was declared a World Heritage Site.

It was on that occasion that, for the first time, UNESCO uses the concept of "Cultural landscape" in terms of criteria and motivations, which will later be used to motivate the enrollment of other sites in the world.

The unrepeatable architecture of the Sassi of Matera tells the ability of man to adapt perfectly to the environment and to the nature, using with simple features such as the constant temperature of the excavated environments, the calcarenite itself of the rocky counter for the construction of the outer houses (not caves), and the use of the slopes for water control.

The city is located in the center of an incredible rock scene that retains an immense heritage of culture and traditions. Suggesting the visuals that Matera offers from every angle you look at!

It is possible to climb and descend from the many alleyways that alternate between buildings and find yourself in ever different and surprising corners.

To this end, it is worth mentioning how, in a picturesque setting right in the heart of the stones of Matera, we have seen the so-called "Casa Grotta".grotta

This visit turned out to be an exceptional opportunity to revive what was daily in the excavated houses of the Sasso Caveoso before they were abandoned following a law for the restoration of the city, by Alcide De Gasperi, in 1952.

The Cave-house is the typical dwelling of the Sassi excavated in the rock, typically furnished. It is a great example to know and understand the evolution of the history and peasant culture of Matera, before the abandonment of the ancient districts of the city.

The Cave-house is furnished with authentic furniture and tools from the time it was inhabited. Visiting this place was definitely thrilling!

Inside the house we could admire the large fireplace of the kitchen, the table with a single dish from which all the members of the family ate; the bed with mattress stuffed with maize leaves; in front of the bed (inside the house) the stable that housed the mule with its manger.

All this provides a precise idea of ​​how family life was organized in the Sassi homes.

To visit the Cave-house you need to join a group for a guided tour, absolutely useful and adequate.

sassi-6Carlo Levi visited the Sassi when they were at the height of a demographic collapse: the inhabitants had grown exponentially: the houses on the rock had been raised more floors and the tanks had been redone to studios where entire families lived with mules and sheeps in very precarious hygiene conditions.

The displacement took place in 1952, following the awareness-raising work initiated by the author Carlo Levi in his book ("Christ stopped at Eboli") then Alcide De Gasperi signed the first Special Law.

This displacement was made necessary by the poor living conditions of the population (infant mortality was four times higher than the national average).

Levi's novel talked about precarious hygienic situations in which the Sassi flooded, where more than fifteen thousand people lived, and lack of sewage increased the risk of epidemics in the area.

Forced abandonment of old homes, from what has been said, was still very painful for the citizens who lived there.

This our itinerary in the city of Matera has also rediscovered a fascinating "Night Matera" so much that we recall in us as the reporter Verricelli wrote in his "Chronicle of the City of Matera" in 1595.97

He tells us that as the dusk the inhabitants turned on their lights, outside their homes, so the spectator looking up from the top of the Sassi was enlightened as a starry sky.

And that was the feeling that in the middle of the night the city had suggested it to us: a wonderful starry sky!

Even at night, every little alley deserves to be traced back to the many details that made us revive at every moment the peculiarity of this wonderful city full of its heritage of culture and traditions.

Nightlife is definitely very active in Matera.

Its historic part is scattered with very pleasant venues: pubs, wineries, pubs and nightclubs all over the globe make for a very carefree aspect of the city.

98Absolutely to mention is the excellent cuisine that you can taste in the many restaurants in the town.

We had the pleasure of having dinner at a restaurant that was absolutely peculiar.

It is the restaurant "Oi Marì", the place is built in a typical rock environment: it is in fact located in one of the suggestive caves of the old town.

Ambience and kitchen absolutely recommended!

Lastly, we will definitely hear about Matera in the coming months. Do not forget that on October 17, 2014, Matera was named European Capital of Culture for the year 2019.

We believe you are going to like this town, so just visit Matera!


Our preferred restaurant in Matera was:

Ristorante "Oi Marì", Matera (MT)