Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Matera, Italy

Matera is one of the most unique and unusual cities we have ever seen! One of the oldest cities in the world, Matera is famous for its sassi, which are stone houses carved out of caves and cliffs. The sassi are located on either side of a deep ravine and have been inhabited for centuries. Until the 1950s, hundreds of families were living crowded in the cave houses in unbearable conditions until they were forced out by law and moved to more modern buildings. The sassi remain a reminder of the past, with more cave houses being converted into restaurants, hotels, and comfortable houses. During our time there we were lucky to stay in one of the renovated cave hotels.

We spent our time wandering around the sassi districts, where narrow maze-like alleys lead every which way and the streets are sometimes rooftops of people's homes. It was amazing to see the historical, architectural, and natural heritage packed into the Sassi of Matera. While walking around we developed a feeling for this ancient city and discovered its structures, significance, and cultures.

Like many Italian cities, Matera boasts many churches and piazzas:

Matera Cathedral
A church near the main piazza.

Madonna di Idris
The Church of San Pietro Caveoso
Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario is a cave house that is filled with items to show how a typical cave house was set up and the conditions that the people lived in up until the 1950s. It was unbelievable how the people lived here: chickens were kept under the bed, a horse was kept in the corner, children slept wherever they could find a spot, and there was a manure area. During the audio description it was interesting to learn how they made do with these restricted living environments.

We also headed over to the Belvedere di Murgia Timone, which is on the opposite side of the 200 meter ravine. The best views of Matera can be seen from here as well as many churches cut into the rock.

A set of caves.

Matera from afar
Inside the cave church

The church

By the caves
Before visiting Matera we made sure to read about the history of this amazing city and we think it really helped to have a bit of historical background in order to make sense of the sights here. It is one of the most interesting and unique places we have ever seen!

Venerdi' scorso, siamo andati a Matera. Siamo stati in un albergo in una grotta sasso. La nostra stanza era molte grande e bella! Matera e' famosa per i sassi. E' anche dove il film "Passion of the Christ" e' stato girato. Matera e' una citta' antica e diversa. Alcune persone abitano nelle case di 9,000 anni fa! Abbiamo camminato molto intorno alla citta' e abbiamo visto molte chiese e grotte. Questa e' la citta' affascinante.


  1. Were they living in caves because of the War?? That hotel is awesome!

    1. They actually had lived in them for centuries... their "houses" were just passed down to each generation. But in the 20th century they still had no running water, no electricity, lived in filthy conditions, and a 50% infant mortality rate. The city basically kept it a secret from everyone else and it turned out to be a scandalous part of Italian history because no one was helping them. After a book was written about it in the 1940s people started to question why these people were living in these conditions and that's when the law was passed to move them to more modern structures.

  2. Very interesting, beautiful city! First you guys stay in an igloo, and this time in a cave! That's so cool!! What will be next?!! There is one pic of the city of Matera that is absolutely gorgeous. The darkness and lights make the city look like it is made of gold!! I couldn't wait to read this blog and see all the pics! It kind of makes staying in a regular hotel room seem rather boring!!