Meandering through Matera’s ancient and story-filled streets was a treat for the senses.
I mentioned before that Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited human places in the world. Matera is a Unesco World Heritage site known for its ancient cave dwellings known as “sassi” that date back to Palaeolithic times.
To me, Matera’s unique beauty and magic may be attributable to its age old ongoing conversation between humans and nature. It is this that has shifted Matera’s shape and growth to what we can see today.
Matera commands a lofty position with stunning views of the gravina that runs alongside it. the city is a multilayered living pop-up history book with an intricate body that is formed of underground labyrinths, cave dwellings, known as the “sassi”, and densely intersecting buildings that span various eras.
Matera is a place of profound contrasts and unspoken harmony. Seeing the majestic landscape against the rugged faceted buildings is an arresting sight by day yet by night it is the city that glitters like a thousand stars against a landscape plunged into a deep impenetrable darkness.
It may surprise many people to learn that the caves of Matera were homes to many people right up until the 1950s. Large families their cave homes with their livestock in cramped conditions with very limited sanitation or running water. Eventually, the poor living conditions became a national scandal and the Italian government passed a law to rehouse (and in many instances, forcibly remove) an estimated 15,000 people from the caves. The sassi were abandoned and left to face the elements as a ghost town.
If you walk to the Caveoso part of town you can see an reconstruction of the cave homes. There are also many abandoned caves that you can take a sneaky look into – watch your step as you go though!
In the mid 80’s the state of neglect of Matera became a new worry and the government passed a new law to encourage private ownership of the old buildings. In 1993, Unesco declared the Sassi a world heritage site and this drew tourists to the area. Since then extraordinary renovations have turned the abandoned buildings into stunning hotels, restaurants, theatres and galleries.
Walking through the winding streets of old Matera is mesmerising and feels almost dreamlike. It feels like every corner has a secret, each street a story and each wall a heartbeat of its own.
“In the Sassi caves is concealed the capital of the peasants, its heart hidden in their ancient civilisation. Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awe-struck, so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty.” Carlo Levi, written on his visit to Mareta in 1945.
- Leave your makeup bag and stilettos at home because they are useless items to carry to Matera. The paths are old, cobbled in parts and slippery smooth in other so they will punish high heels;
- Go now while it is still a bit of a secret.
- Never fear of getting lost! It is a wonderful feeling.
- If you go in summer, high SPF and a hat may come in handy.
- If you need a hotel, we can highly recommend where we stayed |HERE|