Matera, Italy

Matera in southern region of Basilicata, is considered Italy’s most extraordinary town. Above a deep ravine, there is a tight patchwork of buildings. Along the stone cliffs of the ravines are stone houses called Sassi di Matera or stones of Matera carved out of the rock cliffs and caves where people have lived in crowded conditions with their livestock for 10,000 years.

Among the first settlements in Italy, the Sassi is today a tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The families who were living in poverty were relocated to modern dwellings in the 1950s, but a few families still remain in the homes of their ancestors since prehistory. With the help of UNESCO, Hollywood and the European Union the Sassi has been regenerated with businesses, hotels and pubs located in the living stone.

The Old Town Sassi, Matera, Basilicata, ItalyMatera is also the location of some ancient and historically fascinating churches. The Matera Cathedral was constructed in an Apulian Romanesque architectural style between 1268 and 1270 offered to Santa Maria della Bruna in 1389. It has statues of Maria della Bruna, Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the front, but the rose window is the main feature. A fourteenth century Byzantine-style fresco that portrays the Last Judgment was recently discovered.

There are churches and monasteries in the caves and cliffs that date from the beginning of the Christian Era. Some are just an alter and a small fresco in a simple cave and some are complex networks of caves with many rooms, some of them large. These are thought to be meditation chambers for coenobitic and rupestric monks. The Crypt of Original Sin, dating from the 9th century, is in the cliff of a ravine. It has frescoes painted by a Benedictine monk.

Because of the construction of the city over and along the ravine that divided it, it was difficult for the people to get water. Hundreds of years ago the people build elaborate water channels and cisterns to store water. One of the largest was found under the Tramontano Castle, an unfinished 16th century castle. While restoring the castle, a huge Roman cistern was discovered with a vaulted ceiling and columns supporting it.

Hotels in The Sassi are carefully reconstructed to evoke the lifestyle of the people who used to live there. Care is taken to use only the original rock and let the rooms tell their own story. There are no televisions, minibars or telephones in many hotel rooms. The wires and pipes for electricity and plumbing have been artfully installed and are not easy to see. Visitors use furniture made from old pieces collected in the area and refurbished.

Matera is not on the main tourist routes but well worth a visit. With its quiet atmosphere and remarkable caves that date from Paleolithic times it is one of the oldest human settlements in the world. With top rated bed and breakfasts as well as hotels and excellent restaurants, some of which serve the local dishes, there is comfortable accommodation. Visitors can explore the Sassi on their own with a map of the most interesting places or with a guide and have an incredible walk through the ancient past.


Speak Your Mind