The city centre, which was literally dug into the rock, arises on the edge of the Gravina’s Gorges. Having a very bad reputation in the past, the town has made huge efforts to move on and build a new and shining name. This lead Matera to become the Italian Capital of Culture in 2019.
Around 1950, the city had to be evacuated by the government, due to the bad conditions of the houses: no water and no sewer system. So for almost half century, the city was essentially abandoned and its population was moved to a newer area of the city. This is why today Matera is divided into two major parts: one is relatively new, with nothing particularly interesting to see, and the old town called I Sassi (stones, rocks).
From an original population of around 14.000 people, today only 2.500 people live in the Sassi. It’s pretty understandable because, besides the beauty and the fact that many of the houses have been renovated on the inside, the old town is not so easy to live in: they’re only two major roads, and cars aren’t allowed in the city centre, the streets are narrow and made with stones that are sloppy most of the times.
When we arrived we had to walk along this streets with our 50 kg luggage, it was a struggle and ruined our mood at arrival quite a bit. I still can’t figure out how I didn’t lose the wheels of my suitcase on those roads. Thank God we later learnt that it’s possible to enter in the city centre by car for a short interval of time in the morning, so we didn’t have to repeat this terrible experience a second time.
The best way to arrive in Matera is landing in Bari’s Airport and then rent a car, or take the train from Bari Centrale. As I previously said, the Sassi isn’t open to traffic, most of the time, so the best thing is to leave the car in the new quarter and walk to the city centre. Once you arrive, you’ll be stunned by how chaotic but breathtaking the whole scenario is: it feels like being in the ancient Jerusalem. The houses were dug into the rocks, and built one on top of the other, creating an odd and captivating stratified layout. The roof of the buildings in the lower layers becomes the floor of the ones on top. This scheme was repeated so many times that in some areas they can be up till 10 layers of houses. It’s like having a single 10 story building.
MY FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO AND TO SEE IN MATERA
- Enjoy the view from the countless terraces: visiting the Sassi is going to take forever because every spot and every alley deserve a stop. You’ll never get tired of this town, they will always be a new detail that you haven’t noticed before. In the evening the old town wakes up completely showing its beauty to the fullest. There are countless bars and pubs, the nightlife is powerful without being too noisy. Streets are lit by thousands of lights contributing to accentuate the crib atmosphere.
2. Visit the Cathedral: built in around 1200 A.D. on the highest point of the city, in Romanic style, the dome, has very rich interiors, whit statues and frescoes. Keep in mind that at the entrance you’ll be asked to put on a shawl provided by the staff if your outfit isn’t appropriate.
3. Visit Casa Roccia and rupestrian churches: inside the Sassi, there are several houses which are literally caves, that you can visit on the inside and discover how people used to live in the past. Those who lived here were quite poor, and so were their homes: they kept animals inside to provide their selves with some warmth. Families were so large, at the time, that every piece of furniture had to be converted into a bed. Even the drawers of the dresser were used as beds for the kids. Under the real bed, there was the potty because they were no toilet, neither bathroom.
Cave churches weren’t as interesting as the homes because they’re essentially empty, but they deserve a visit too.
4. Stay in the Sassi: in the old town, you can find a lot of different hotels and residences with stylish and luxurious interiors. The perfect retreat for you and your better half! We stayed at Residence Comera, and we had an amazing time there. Our host, Francesco was the kindest: he welcomed us warmly, even if we were 3 hours late, he provided us with all the information we needed, gave us the best advice on where to eat. Our room was amazing too: it was a two floors suite with exclusive access to the rooftop terrace, where we enjoyed magical sunrises and sunset. In addition, everything in the mini fridge was free. Francesco really deserves an award for Best Host of the year.
5. Dine in a cave and taste Materan flavours: this was an amazing experience! We had dinner at Baccanti, a restaurant in a cave. The dishes we had were delicious and the service great. Matera boasts a culinary tradition of respect, made of cold cuts, meats and cheese. One of the best discovery was Matera’s bread: it tasted so good that we demolished two baskets.
The next evening we were too tired to go out for dinner so we bought pizza and ate in our room. Although pizza is from Napoli and not from Matera, the ones we had there was among the best I ever had in my life.
So this was our experience in Matera, let me know if I intrigued you or if you’ve been there already.
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