Matera might not be the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of Italy, but in my opinion it shouldn’t be overlooked when doing a tour of its southern part, because it is stunning and absolutely unique.
To begin with, Matera is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited settlements in the world, having been called home by people since 7,000 BCE! If you spend at least a night in the oldest neighborhoods, called the Sassi, chances are you might be sleeping in the same quarters that were used by troglodytes 9,000 years ago, only with much more modern comforts nowadays.
In fact, the Sassi constitute a unique example of a living city that is almost completely dug in the rock, in this case the calcareous rock of the Murgia Plateau.
Atop the Sassi lie the other two neighborhoods that make up the city. On the spur that separates the Sasso Barisano from the Sasso Caveoso, one can find the medieval heart of Matera, the Civita with its beautiful romanesque cathedral, and the post-medieval Piano, with its baroque palaces and churches.
Due to poor sanitation and meager living conditions, most of the Sassi were evacuated by the government in the 1950s, in order to give their inhabitants adequate housing in modern buildings. From with the 1980s, however, people have started returning there, renovating the ancient dwellings, and in some cases turning them into boutique hotels and B&B’s. Tourism in Matera is nowadays a thriving industry.
For the photographer, Matera offers an endless number of opportunities and requires multiple days in order to be fully discovered. I recommend wandering and getting lost in the narrow streets to get a feel of this amazing city.
Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage site, together with the adjoining Park of the Rupestrian Churches, a collection of about 150 rock-hewn churches dating from the early centuries of the Middle Ages, including the spectacular Crypt of the Original Sin, with its cycle of frescoes depicting stories from the Book of Genesis.
Want to see more of Italy? Join me here in September 2019 for a photo tour of the best my country has to offer.