Discover Matera, the impressive ancient city of stone

Matera’s Sassi area

Matera is a unique and breathtaking ancient town located in the region of Basilicata, north of Puglia. It is a very common destination during trips to the latter, the popular “heel of the boot”.

It is a city on a rocky outcrop in the region of Basilicata, in southern Italy. It includes the Sassi area, a complex of cave dwellings carved into the mountainside.

Known as la città sotterranea (“the underground city”), the Sassi and the park of the Rupestrian Churches were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. In 2019, Matera was declared a European Capital of Culture.

History

As the capital of the province of Matera, its original settlement lies in two canyons carved by the Gravina River. This area, the Sassi di Matera, is a complex of cave dwellings carved into the ancient river canyon.

Over the course of its history, Matera has been occupied by Greeks, Romans, Longobards, Byzantines, Saracens, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, and Bourbons.

By the late 1800s, Matera’s cave dwellings became noted for intractable poverty, poor sanitation, meagre working conditions, and rampant disease. Evacuated in 1952, the population was relocated to modern housing, and the Sassi (Italian for “stones”) lay abandoned until the 1980s.

Renewed vision and investment led to the cave dwellings becoming a noted historic tourism destination, with hotels, small museums and restaurants – and a vibrant arts community.

Attractions

San Francesco d’Assisi
Matera’s Duomo

Depending on where you are staying in town, a gentle walk through the main street of the old town is the best way to start. For instance, you can start at Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli, where an amazing view of the Sassi is area is available for memorable pictures.

You can then take Via Ridola towards Piazza San Francesco, where you will find the church of San Francesco d’Assisi. After visiting it, continue to Piazza del Sedile and walk towards Via Duomo and reach the Cathedral of Matera.

Once you do that, the next best thing to do is to simply get lost in the Sassi area. There are many tiny streets and alleys, but you won’t get lost. Some of them are marked as “Touristic itinerary/path”, and many end up at the Duomo.

Besides the attractions mentioned above, you can also visit the following:

  • San Pietro Caveoso Church
  • Casa Grotta nei Sassi
  • Casa Noha
  • Church of Saint Mary of Idris
  • Crypt of Original Sin
  • Belvedere Murgia Timone (the location of the crucifixion in The Passion of Christ movie)

On top of that, for hiking lovers, a good trail is also available, as detailed in the next section.

And lastly, as you leave the city (and especially if you drive) you can visit Palomba Sculpture Park (free admission), where you can look for modern sculptures, such as a “beetle car” squashed between two boulders. After continuing with the car a little further on there is the Belvedere di Murgia Timone where you can see a truly enchanting scenery

Hiking

Stunning picture from one of the best spots of the hiking trail
Matera’s main hiking trail from the distance

If you like hiking, Matera will not disappoint you. There is an easy/medium hiking trail that starts on the West edge of the Sassi area and goes all the way to Chiesa Rupestre di Madonna delle Tre Porte and Belvedere Murgia Timone, the location of the crucifixion in The Passion of Christ movie.

Expect breathtaking views like the one in the picture above. You will cross the cute Ponte Tibetano della Gravina and find many caves and outstanding views of the city from the distance. The path is easy, a bit hilly but not that much. In summer, be aware of the heat and sun, and there is no much shade along the way. It should take between 1.5 and 2 hours in total.

The map below shows the walking path from the Duomo to the bridge, just as a reference to where to start. From that point, there are still 40 more minutes to go until you reach the church.

Visit our post “Matera to Belvedere Murgia Timone hiking trail” for more information and pictures of the hiking.

Accommodation

Casa Vacanze Lo Scorcio

We stayed at Casa Vacanze Lo Scorcio, I can only say that was one of the best flats we stayed in the whole trip. The view to The Sassi is simply breathtaking. On top of that, the flat is spacious, well located, with easy access, with a good Internet connection, and its host Tonio provides the best recommendations in town. Moreover; the kitchen was fully equipped, with breakfast ready for our stay, and water and prosecco in the fridge. As soon as we entered we wanted to change our booking and stay longer.

In general terms, the recommendation is to stay in a traditional cave. And it would be even better if it is facing the Sassi area. Some other recommendations are Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita, La Corte Dei Pastori and Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort, although none of them is cheap.

Restaurants and pubs

La Lopa restaurant

For having a few drinks, or the popular Italian “Aperitivo“, we can recommend the following places

In terms of food, looking to have a good traditional meal, we can suggest the following

Our favourite restaurant in Matera, and one of the best in our whole trip to Puglia, was La Lopa. The restaurant is inside a real Sassi, so cool ambience and very comfortable. The service was superb and the food delicious. Additionally, they have a screen at the bottom showing extracts of movies that were filmed in Matera.

More Pictures

One of Matera’s traditional tiny streets
Matera at night
Matera at night
Ponte Tibetano della Gravina

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