Experience the Sassi of Matera

Matera in Basilicata - Photo by Margie MiklasMatera in Basilicata has intrigued me for quite some time. Any photos I have seen or stories I have read about this place built from caves have been so  interesting. Finally now I can say that I  have experienced this captivating town in southern Italy.

This 2-minute video provides a brief overview of  Matera.

This past fall the European Commission chose Matera as one of its two capitals of European culture for 2019.

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A recent article in  Smithsonian Magazine explains the history of Matera and how this unique UNESCO World heritage site advanced from being called “the shame of Italy” to a chic place to stay today.

Not only have I visited Matera, but I stayed in one of the sassi, or cave dwellings, which has been restored into a bed and breakfast. Our below ground suite in San Giovanni Vecchio Residenza was one of the oldest in Matera.

image One of the highlights of staying here was the rooftop terrace with a phenomenal view. We enjoyed evening aperitivo here in this ambience where the scent of the blooming purple petunias permeated the night air.

image The managers who spoke excellent English were extremely nice, carrying our luggage down into our rooms.

imageFully restored with wi-fi and a modern bathroom and kitchen, this subterranean accomodation was an adjustment. Twelve steps down lead into the full suite and there are no windows except a small skylight  high above. It was a challenge which caused me to laugh as I rummaged through my suitcase on a curved floor. I don’t think the stone walls can fully hide the fact that this was once a cistern.

Matera is definitely not a place for anyone with mobility issues. There is a lot of walking and most of it is on uneven ground and staircases.

imageAfter walking  for miles the first day, we opted to pay the reasonable fee of  15 euros and had the opportunity to meet Andrea, a pleasant, intelligent, attractive young man with amazingly curly light brown hair. He was born in Matera and speaks with pride and an honest perspective when he shares his feelings from his heart with us. Regarding the changes to his city, he   explains  that while the restoration of Matera may be good for the economy, the additional onslaught of tourists may change his city forever. “Now nobody locks their doors, ” he says.”It’s not always about money. Some things are more  important.” I am impressed to hear so much wisdom from someone so young.

imageHe not only showed us around his city, but gladly stopped for us to take photographs at various locations, and even recommended a favorite place to have lunch. Grazie, Andrea!

imageimageWe had some of the best food and wine in Matera. Breakfasts at Oi Mari Ristorante and dinner outside at La Talpa were enjoyable.

Because of the appearance of the Sassi in Matera, several movies have been filmed here. Most recently, some scenes from the re-make of Ben-Hur were shot here, and 1000 Matera residents had non-speaking parts in the film.

imageMel Gibson’s 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ  was filmed here since the landscape resembles Jerusalem;  some scenes were filmed outside and some inside one of the 157 Rupestrian churches here.

imageInside the 12th century Church of  Madonna della Virtu, which is dug entirely in the rock. The frescoes are incredible.

Matera is not as small as I had expected. The city has over 50,000 inhabitants, and these Sassi are in the centro storico, or historic district. I liked it that we saw few tourists except some group tours. I saw very few Americans here, but I think that will likely change within the next few years, leading up to the 2019 celebration of Matera as a capital of European culture.

This post only scratches the surface about Matera. Many more  stories can be told about the interesting museums, free-wandering healthy-looking cats, music which fills the air  from the Conservatory near Piazza Sedile, the  views from Piazza Duomo and the Duomo which is under a major restoration, and more. Stay tuned.

Would you put this off-the-beaten path city in southern Italy on your bucket list? I’d like to hear your feedback. Please leave a comment.

27 Responses

  1. Great post and pictures Margie 🙂 I esp like the fact that ppl spoke English there, making an effort 😉 Fascinating history too. Matera becomes a number 1 destination when I visit the south.

  2. I loved your post and would like to see and read more. However, I was short of breath just looking at the pictures. I am way too claustrophobic to enter a cave. Trust me on this! They are safe from the damage one more tourist could do to them, in my case at least.

    • Thank you Bonnie. Some of the restored caves are above ground but I hear what you’re saying. I hope to write more later. There is really much more and I was only there for 2 days but I saw a lot.

  3. Wow! Another amazing place to visit in Italy that takes my breath away! Thankyou for the great photos.

  4. We went to Matera several years ago and loved it. I wouod go back in a heartbeat.

  5. Wonderful blog and atmospheric photos. Matera is high on my list to visit, perhaps in September. However, not sure I want to sleep in a cistern!! Brave lady! 🙂

  6. Margie, thank you for your very interesting article and photos. The Puglia region is the one area of Italy I’ve not visited; however, I am planning to spend a few days in Matera in October with three friends and would love to have contact information for your guide, Andrea. I will also look up the B&B where you stayed as we do not yet have a reservation.

    • While I do not have the contact info for Andrea, I can tell you that his friend, another young man named Andrea called him for us. He worked at a bar on Via Fiorentini near Osteria Pico. Several drivers operate these little glorified golf carts with an awning. We spotted them as we were walking.

  7. Matera is firmly on my wish list already and your post just confirms that I need to see it Margie!! It looks such a fascinating place and its great that the caves are being brought back into use too! Fab post, thanks for sharing and I’ll look out for the next one!!

    • Thank you so much…I know you’ll enjoy it..I love your blog too…so much information and great photos of Italia

      • Thank you Margie! Its great to find a fellow Italophile and your posts are so inspiring! Keep ’em coming! Ciao for now!

  8. Wow! What an incredible place. Definitely not a place I will be able to visit so as always, appreciate your sharing with all of us. So adventurous in your lodgings as well as the terrain – kudos to you! I love how you always find all the cute young men in your travels 😉

  9. What a great introduction to this historic place. The photos really bring it to life. The food photos made me hungry. I’m not very mobile, do I’d have to find different lodgings were I to go there.

    • Grazie Barbara. Yes there are other accomodations in the newer section of Matera. I must say the food here was fantastic! Lots of grilled vegetables, caprese salad.

  10. Fabulous post and photos as always Margie!

  11. […] old staircase in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Matera is a perfect example of uneven surfaces. Matera is full of these but so well worth it. Just make […]

  12. I sure would (put it on my bucket list).

  13. […] uneven steps in the Unesco World Heritage site of  Matera look like they were built by hand using a variety of construction materials. Lovely? Not  exactly, […]

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