The ancient city of Matera
The ancient city of Matera is steeped in history and is home to the famous Sassi, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back over 7000 years. While part of the town spreads out across the Murgia Plateau, the famed Sassi comprises cave dwellings and rock churches built on and dug into the sides of the Gravina Gorge which drops dramatically away beneath it.
The cave dwellings of the Sassi are the most extensive example of their kind in the Mediterranean. Now, however, the Sassi district has gone through extensive re-development and hosts some incredible cave hotels, private homes and restaurants, lovingly restored to enhance their original features. Explore this complex and beautiful network of caves, churches, streets, stairways, archways and terraces on foot to best experience this atmospheric city.
The way to start your visit to Matera is to wander around the sassi districts, looking at the cramped town above its ravine, and the tumbling grey stone facades, which appear to be houses but turn out to be caves.
It can be hard to get one’s bearings in Matera. The town centre, the oldest part of town, was built on the edge of a bare plateau where a high rocky mount looms over the spot where a valley descends to the long deep river-ravine. This is where you’ll now find the town cathedral and the fairly typical Italian town centre. As time passed, the rocky valley slopes below the town were dug out to create caves, used for housing, storage and stabling. These cave areas, where the poorest local peasants lived, fill a narrow valley and run along the side of the gorge itself. The first, and smarter, of the cave districts is called the Sasso Barisano and the other the Sasso Caveoso.
Matera has been awarded the title of the 2019 European Capital of Culture in Italy. The five other Italian cities shortlisted as finalists for the title were: Cagliari, Lecce, Perugia, Ravenna and Siena.
Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner responsible for culture, stated: “I congratulate Matera on its successful bid. The competition for the title in Italy was one of the strongest ever, with 21 initial contenders narrowed down to six finalists.”
Matera will attract more visitors from Europe and all over the world to discover the city, its history and the cultural diversity which is one of strengths of this continent.