August 28: Matera

A short train ride through the countryside pass groves and groves of olive trees and the town of Matera appears in the distance sitting high on one of the only hills in the area. It is the capital city of the province of Matera in the region of Basilicata. Known as "la Città Sotterranea" (the Subterranean City), Matera is well known for its historical center called "Sassi", considered World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993, along with the Park of the Rupestrian Churches.

Quoting Wikipedia: "Matera gained international fame for its ancient town, the "Sassi di Matera" (meaning "stones of Matera"). The Sassi originate from a prehistoric (troglodyte) settlement, and are suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. The Sassi are houses dug into the calcareous rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Puglia. Many of these "houses" are really only caverns, and the streets in some parts of the Sassi often are located on the rooftops of other houses. The ancient town grew in height on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream. The ravine is known locally as "la Gravina". In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city.

Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since these houses were, and in most areas still are, mostly unlivable. Current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and has promoted the re-generation of the Sassi with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels.

Matera preserves a large and diverse collection of buildings related to the Christian faith, including a large number of rupestrian churches carved from the soft volcanic rock of the region.

 Matera was built above a deep ravine called Gravina of Matera that divides the territory into two areas. Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide a water supply to its inhabitants. Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels."

An example of the Sassi style can be seen in this writer's hotel. Locanda de San Martino is located in the Sassi district and through skilled reconstruction and renovation of the existing cave/cistern structures it allows the resident to "live in a cave". On the lower level of the hotel sits a Roman thermal bath available to its guests.

Passing Through The Countryside of Olive Groves

And More Olives

AND More!!

"Living In A Cave" (note glass window on floor)

Another View of Room

View Down Glass Window Into Cave Below

Thermal Bath Beneath The Hotel

Sassi City Street


San Domenico on Piazza Vittrio Veneta

Ex Convento dell'Annunziata

Afternoon Italian Break!



Entrance Into City Center Cistern

Down Into the Lower Levels of the Cistern

View of Cistern Entrance

The Stairs to Nowhere in Sassi!