Sassi of Matera
The Sassi of Matera (Sassi di Matera) is considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, dating from the Palaeolithic era. It is the best example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region. The houses are carved into the rock of a hillside in a river valley. There are two parts: Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. The Caveoso part is the oldest, and least developed. In the 1950s the Italian government relocated many people to the modern part of town, but some remained and people still live there today.
Location: Italy - Basilicata - Matera - Matera
Tags: Settlement, UNESCO World Heritage Site
A car is the easiest way to get here. Matera is the only provincial capital in Italy without a train station! There are buses from Bari, Potenza and Naples, but schedules aren’t very convenient.
The Sassi is the ancient district, while the city center is perched on the plain above. There is only one road that allows traffic in the Sassi. There is no way to really see this area without a lot of walking. The best way to really appreciate the hidden gems and history of the Sassi is with a local guide. My Bella Basilicata can arrange an excellent English-speaking guide for you.
Day trip contributed by My Bella Basilicata
Walking Tour of Matera and the Sassi
Matera, a captivating city in the southern region of Basilicata, oozes antiquity. More than a "cave city" as most articles like to say, Matera is an architecturally intricate place that is fascinating to wander. The ancient streets, worn shiny from the centuries, feel almost mystical. The old city gleams in the sunlight and turns magical in the moonlight.
Start in the Piazza Ridola, where the Palazzo Lanfranchi Museum has a cache of paintings by Carlo Levi, who was a political exile in Basilicata during the Fascist era. The author of Christ Stopped at Eboli was a talented artist. There are other works of regional art worth seeing and at only €2 entrance fee, it’s a bargain. A secret tip: You can also ask one of the docents to open the terrace for a nice view.
Next to the museum is a great overlook onto the Sassi to feast your eyes on the rock city below. Walk along Via Ridola and you’ll come to the somewhat macabre Church of Purgatory, adorned with lots of skulls and crossbones. If you want to exit purgatory, there are some great gelaterias around here that would make the angels sing!
Continue Via del Corso, lined with shops, to the buzzing hub of Matera, Piazza Veneto. This is where you should be for the evening passeggiata, where you’ll see Matera is vibrant and alive with people. Off the piazza is an underground Roman ruin, while above it is a covered arcade overlook. Continuing from the piazza, tree-lined Via XX Settembre has some upscale shops.
Down in the Sassi, explore the lanes and marvel at the intricacy of this ancient city, hewn into the cliff, and constructed with blocks of tufa rock. It is more than a series of caves, as you’ll see there are elegant palaces and homes built out from the caves here. You'll walk down, then up, and down ... well, a lot of walking. The Sassi are much more extensive than you think, built over the hill and into the folds of the landscape. Walk the lower road, Via Madonna della Virtu', to see the ravine on both sides - the built-up Sassi and the natural state of the other side. Visit the two churches built right into the rock, Santa Maria di Idris and San Giovanni. Amazing!
If you like to hike, take the Gravina trail that leads from the parking lot on this road; it goes down the ravine to the stream, and back up the other side on old mule paths. (There is a sign at the parking lot.)
But mostly, get yourself lost in the maze and notice all the details, from the chimneys poking through the streets to carvings to hidden courtyards. This is one fascinating city!
Drive to the "other side" to see the incredible sight of Matera in its entirety from the Parco della Murgia overlook. Along the way, stop at the lovely sculpture garden placed in the old tufa quarry, La Palomba. It's a quiet place for a picnic among open-air art.
The ravine at the Parco della Murgia is awash in Byzantine chapels colorfully frescoed by monks of old. Reserve to see them, especially the gorgeous Crypt of Original Sin. Reservation Website
Then return to the land of the living for a drink in Piazza Veneto while watching modern Matera at its best.