Matera 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.
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.
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.
The managers who spoke excellent English were extremely nice, carrying our luggage down into our rooms.
Fully 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.
After 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.
He 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!
We 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.
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.