Carlo Levi said it better than anyone else...
Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awe-struck, so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty.
Nestled in the southern region of Basilicata and still uncrowded, Matera is one of the most interesting, unusual and memorable cities in Italy. Not only the cave-houses, but also a rich history full of interesting facts as well as sad decades of decadence and sorrow.
Top things to do in Matera
Sassi di Matera
Often confused with the house caves, the Sassi di Matera are in fact the two districts ancient Matera was composed by: Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano.
Here, in houses dug in tufo, the characteristic stone of this area, people have been living since 9000 years ago. In the 1950s, filled with malaria and terrible health conditions, the Italian government forced people to relocate to the developing modern area of the city. But some people, mainly the poor and the sick, kept living in the Sassi regardless of the government orders. As incredible as it is, Matera is probably the only place in the world where people can say they are still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9000 years ago, as written by the English Fodor’s guide.
Cathedral of Matera
The imposing cathedral, that sits on the highest point of the city and divides the two sassi, is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Address: Piazza Duomo, 75100 Matera MT
Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario
This old cave dwelling is the perfect place to understand how the peasants lived before Matera’s sassi were abandoned. It houses the original furniture and tools of the time in order to give visitors the exact idea of how family lived back then.
Address: Vicinato di Vico Solitario 1, 75100 Matera MT
This giant cistern resembling an incredible subterranean cathedral, lies under the city's main square and it’s incredible that it was still supplying water to Materans alive today. You should book ahead for a 25-minute tour (English tour also available).
Address: Ipogei, Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 75100 Matera MT
This is the place to go to for the perfect shot of the sassi of Matera. This is also the place where the crucifixion in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was shot. At sunset you get bonus points.
Address: Contrada Murgia Timone, 75100 Matera MT
Chiesa di Madonna delle Virtù & Chiesa di San Nicola del Greci
This monastic complex is one of the most important monuments in Matera. Built around the 10th century, it includes several tufa limestone-carved rooms across two floors. The Chiesa di San Nicola del Greci sits above it and it features lots of frescoes.
Address: Via Madonna delle Virtù, 75100 Matera MT
Interesting facts and tips about Matera
- Matera was tagged a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993
- Here is where Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of Christ’ movie was filmed
- Forget your heels and wear (very) comfy shoes – ideally with a good sole as the streets can be quite slippery
- Fully charge your camera batteries and bring a wide angle lens if you have one
Books and Movies set in Matera
- Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi’
- The Passion of Christ by Mel Gibson
- Ben Hur, 1959
- La Lupa, 1953
- Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo 1964, by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Getting there from Rome (or Milan)
You can opt for an one-hour flight to Bari from where you can get a bus or train to Matera station (60 Km). Otherwise, if you have more time, you can rent a car from Rome and drive there in 5 hours. Remember that parking in the centre of Matera can be quite difficult, nope that’s incorrect, parking is impossible, since no cars, except for residents, are allowed in the historical centre.
If you want to travel by train, the easiest way is to first get to Bari which is connected by Trenitalia (the national train system and it’s a 4-hour train ride from Rome), then go to the regional train site, Ferrovie Appulo Lucane, chosing “Bari Centrale” as your starting point and “Matera Centrale” as your endpoint. The ride takes between 1 hour and 15 minutes and 1.5 hours and it is very cheap (something like 2 euros). From the train station, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the Sassi of Matera. (If you are coming from Milan, the above still stands albeit with longer travel times).
Read more about Matera here
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