Stepping back in time, the fascinating city of Matera

I have always wanted to visit one of the most unique and spectacular cities of Italy: Matera. I finally managed to get there whilst on our trip to Puglia.

We flew to Bari (which is 55 Km/34 miles from Matera) and stayed at Polignano a Mare;  Matera is situated in the Basilicata region and about 1 and 1/2 hours away from Polignano so we hired a Fiat 500 to explore all the area around it.

On our way there I loved the wild look of the countryside of Basilicata and I could spot several sheep and horses. When we stopped to admire the view the only sound I could hear was a chorus of cicadas..the proper sound of a hot Mediterranean summer!

Baslicata countryside

Matera, has been nominated one of two European Capitals of Culture in 2019­, it is also known as the “Sassi” or stones as it is a series of grottos carved out of limestone and it dates back to the Palaeolithic period. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in history.

A view of Matera the Sassi

Matera in the 1950s was a shame for Italy: people were living in caves without running water, sewage or electricity and malaria was rife. Then, in 1952 its 20.000 inhabitants were evacuated by the Italian government on the outskirts of town. By the 1960s all the people who lived there were moved to modern accomodations by law.

In 1993 it became a Unesco Word Heritage Site and many of the caves were renovated and have now become homes, hotels, restaurants and bars.

I Sassi di Matera

I Sassi di Matera

Matera church

The city looks dramatic and feels quite magic, almost surreal. It is like stepping back to the past, to the “Holy Land” and in fact it is the perfect place for film sets. Several Biblical films have been filmed here. In 2004 Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was filmed here.

Church carved out of stone in Matera

It is a beautiful place to wonder around through narrow paths and stairs and the views are stunning. My advice is to bring good walking shoes with you and light and fresh clothes as it gets very hot if you are planning to visit it in the summer.

Matera the "Sassi"

View of Matera in Basilicata

Cactus plants in Matera Basilicata

Caves view Matera_

On the East side of Matera you will find the Murgia National Park known as “Parco Regionale Archeologico Storico Naturale delle Chiese Rupestri del Materano” or “Natural Historic Archaeological Regional Park of the Rock Churches of Matera”. This park has a rocky landscape with a typical Mediterranean vegetation.

The Murgia National Park of Matera

Visiting the “Casa Grotta”, a typical cave dwelling will give you an idea on how people lived inside one these caves.

Matera, living in a cave

Whole families would live inside one of these caves.

Matera cave kitchen_

People shared the caves with their animals (donkeys, rabbits, chicken, goats and chicken).

Matera cave lliving with animals_

I have found this place incredible. There is silence and peace as well as there are no cars; this is a place with a mysterious air. I am so glad I finally managed to visit it.

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12 Responses to Stepping back in time, the fascinating city of Matera

  1. angiesrecipes

    o gosh…those photos are breathtakingly beautiful, Alida. It’s always good to see you update the blog, be food or the places you visited.

  2. Lorelle

    What a gorgeous town Alida. The peacefulness of these towns are so much more appealing to me as opposed to the cities. Beautiful 🙂

  3. 2pots2cook

    Absolutely beautiful ! Absolutely, eternally unique and special heritage !!!

  4. Dulcie Balliana

    Thank you Alida for the wonderful photos,such an awesome experience. I was there last year and loved all the area surrounding Matera.
    I enjoy reading your posts and have cooked some of your recipes, thank you again
    Regards Dulcie

    • Alida

      Thank you Dulcie, I am really pleased. All the best.

  5. Ron

    Great post with a great background story! I love your images of Matera, they make me feel like I was there. Thanks for sharing your visit to Matera.

  6. Dean Haas

    This was really good! I truly enjoyed it. Those cave homes are fascinating! Thank you for posting! Now I’m hungry…. 🙂 Dean

  7. Frank

    Wow! I knew Matera from the bread, but I didn’t know it had such an interesting back story! And such a gorgeous setting. My father’s family is from around Bari and, to my shame, I’ve never actually been there. Need to fix that very soon.

  8. speedy70

    Bellissimo post, grazie cara!

  9. elisabetta

    Loved this post Alida, it takes us inside Matera beautifully. The cave interiors are particularly interesting and makes us feel really lucky to have our comfortable homes. I was in Bologna when you posted this Alida, wow what a food fest!!! 🙂

  10. Choclette

    What a fascinating post. I’ve never hear of Matera. It looks amazing. And I love love love that it’s a city that has no (or few) cars.

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