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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Visiting the “Casa Grotta”, a typical cave dwelling will give you an idea on how people lived inside one these caves.
Whole families would live inside one of these caves.
People shared the caves with their animals (donkeys, rabbits, chicken, goats and chicken).
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.