City of Matera

by Domenico Russumanno
Sassi di Matera - Stones of Matera...a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1993.
...the place to visit at least once in a lifetime...the place where you will feel at easy with yourself.
Here, time seems to stand still, jealously guarding the secrets of its millenary past.

The Sassi
The Hamlet
What to see
Local events
Where to stay
Tours and Videos
A quick visual view of the Sassi

The Sassi originate from a prehistoric (troglodyte) settlement, and are suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. It has gained international fame for its ancient hamlet, the "Sassi di Matera". "​The word Sassi means, in this case, “inhabited rock districts” and it's a word used since the Middle Ages to indicate the districts born around the ancient city, the Civita, occupying the two karstic basins overlooking the precipices of the Gravina river: the Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso.
The  focus of the town is Piazza Vittorio Veneto where all locals meet , surrounded by elegant churches and palaces built by the 'well to do' in an attempt to hide the shameful poverty of the people living in the 'sassi'.

The area of what is now  Matera has been settled since the Palaeolithic times and represent an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement and land use showing the evolution of a culture that has maintained over time a harmonious relationship with its natural environment. Matera's  development was due to its geological setting.

It was here that movie maker Mel Gibson filmed the Passion.

It represents an extraordinary chapter written by man through 10,000 years of history, resulting in architecture and urban accommodation of outstanding quality and originality.

It is a city with a fascinating and complex history: a city of contrasts, of competition and merger of landscapes, civilizations, and cultures. 
The clay plateau above was reserved for agriculture and pastoralism. The harsh landscape resulted in the growth of a spirit of sturdy independence which was resistant to successive waves of invaders after the Byzantine period.
The area was also very attractive to monastic and utopian communities.

It is always amazing to take a walk on the Sassi or admire the 'rupestre' landscape from the lookouts, where the newer part of the city merges with its past, overlooking the Murgia over the ravine.


Everyone is a good photographer here, you can't miss a single shoot.

Matera's twin sister city - Petra  in Jordan 

UNESCO has described Petra as one of the most precious cultural properties of man's  cultural heritage. In 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site, and recently designated as one of the “new wonders” of the world.

~ 5 strategic 'belvedere' to absorb the Sassi from - Make the most of it ~

Piazza Pascoli - It gives you a postcard view of the city. Especially in the glowing orange at sunset .
Madonna dell'Idris - The award for climbing to the peak of the stairs is a mesmerizing 'disorderly' view  laying in front of your eyes.
Convicinio of St Antony Complex - The small terrace offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Sasso Caveoso.  
St Agostino - The terrace leading to the church, overlooking the ravine, frames the maze of houses  and side streets at the foot of the Civita.
Belvedere of Murgia Timone - The opposite side of the ravine. Be here early in the morning or at sunset to experience an almost mystical experience. The mesmerizing view embraces the whole city.
Beside being know as the "Sassi di Matera' , the city is also referred to as  "la Città Sotterranea" (the Subterranean City) and considered World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993, along with the Park of the Rupestrian Churches. 
On October 17, 2014, Matera was declared Italian host of European Capital of Culture for 2019. 
In fact, a journey to the Sassi is a unique engaging experience, one that astonishes and charms you at the same time.
You have that implausible sensation of being part of huge nativity scene made up of thousands of small enticing details.

The Sassi are houses overlapping one above another and linked by little and narrow streets and stairs.
Inhabited until last century, these "houses" are really only caverns, and the streets often are located on the rooftops of the "house" below.​

It is an outstanding example of a rock-cut settlement, adapted perfectly to its geomorphology setting and its ecosystem and exhibiting continuity over more than two millennia.
Needless to say, rain water collection, distribution and use is as elaborate and mind boggling as it is simple. 

The ancient town grew in height on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream.
In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city.

However, people continued to live in the Sassi and many of the houses are now being renovated keeping to strict rules and regulations and today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels (yes, you can buy your own cave, if you are willing to follow the rules).
Driving to Matera from Rome will take approximately  4 1/2 hours (461 km).
The small city is the capital of the province of Matera also known as the "Bio City".
It lies athwart a small canyon, which has been eroded in the course of years by the small stream of Gravina. 

Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario offers a glimpse of life as it was lived for centuries in the sassi: bed in the kitchen, a section for pig and donkey and a room for manure.
Apart from the houses, the architectural landscape has many churches, dug into the rocks, too.
The little rupestrian Church Santa Lucia of the Malve, founded by a Benedictine community around the 8th century, is worth a visit...

a view of the interiors

...as well as the Church of the Madonna of Idris,...
leading to the crypt of San Giovanni in Monterrone,...

 ...or the four rupestrian churches of the Convicinio of Sant'Antonio.

The Sasso Barisano shows the Church of San Pietro Caveoso, one of the main churches of Matera dug into the rock... 

 ...the Church of Madonna delle Virtù, included in a very ancient monastery... 

...the Church of S. Agostino built in 1591 in baroque style...

... and the church of S. Giovanni Battista...
The city also has a Cathedral, built in 1268-70 in Roman style.

Absolutely not to be missed is the  - The Cripta del Peccato Originale (the Crypt of the Original Sin), a few km (14) away from the City is described as the Sistine Chapel of cave painting. A beautiful collection of mural painting to blow you away. (Suggest a guided tour ). 

Taking a scroll along the picturesque narrow and tortuous streets of Civita, the oldest part of the town, you enter the ancient urban area formed by a dense network of caves, dug out of the rock by shepherds to shelter their family and livestock.

Historical city center
The National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art located inside the Lanfranchi Palace. (entrance fee two Euros). The Museum also features the Santo Monaco fresco stolen from the Madonna degli Angeli church by German teacher Rudolf Kubesch in 1961,  only a short distance away visitors can admire some huge Magna Graecia decorated jars depicting women playing the tambourines. 
The Musma Museum of Contemporary Sculpture is undoubtedly  a very interest attraction.
The inspiration you get from the displayed artwork is such that one visit is not enough to take everything the museum has to offer you.

Palazzo Lanfranchi, symbol of the 17th century architecture in the city.


Just below the small main city square, Vittorio Veneto, missed by the majority of tourists, there is a hidden place, the so called "Palombaro" a huge cistern built in 1800 that can store up to 5 million liters of water.
The image above shows the entrance to the huge water reservoir which is is feed with both rain and ground water.

Natale in Matera - Xmas in Matera
One of the events taking place in Matera during the Christmas season is the Live Nativity Scene.
The event born in 2010 has become in a few years a tourist attraction with visitors mainly from Italy and Europe.

Is it the world's biggest live nativity scene,  bringing you to a different dimension, lost in a time where the past is almost palpable, giving you the sensation of being part of it, 
exciting, breathless, mesmerizing.
There are no suitable adjectives to explain what is happening around you and within you.
La festa della Bruna
Another event worth mentioning is the Festival of the Bruna with its "sfilata del carro trionfale", (wagon triumphal parade) in honor of the patron saint Maria Santissima della Bruna

According to tradition, on the morning of July 2nd the statue of the Holy Mother is taken into the church of Piccianello and then is carried in procession on the float all afternoon, along the main streets of Matera, which are flooded with people.
In the evening the procession reaches the Cathedral Square, where "three turns" are performed, to symbolize the taking of the city by the Holy Patron.

The wagon is consequently "assaulted and destroyed" and pieces are held as a good omen until the year after.
Origins of the name, Madonna della
Bruna or della Visitazione.
(Brown Madonna or Madonna of Visitation).

For some the 
  name is rooted in the belief that it comes from the brown color of the Madonna's image, for some others, Bruna (brown) would be a shortened local dialect nickname of Hebron, a city of Judea (southern Israel) where the Virgin visited St. Elizabeth. Hence the other less used name of the "Visitation".

Legends surrounding the event :
One of them tells the story of an unknown girl, who appeared to a local peasant. The girl asked the good man a ride in his wagon, and these, after having accompanied the girl to the gates of the city, near the church of Piccianello, saw her turn into a statue.

The Virgin then greeted the doubting farmer whispering these words: " Every year I want to enter my city on a decorated wagon".

A second legend about why the destruction of the wagon tells of a probable attack by the Saracens.
The Materan people, to avoid the danger of the icons falling into the hands of the attackers, destroy the wagon, avoiding the looting.

The third legend, instead, tells of the Count Tramontano, lord of Matera, who promised to the people of Matera a new wagon every year to honor the Saint.
The Materan people to test the poorly tolerated tyrant, destroyed the wagon at the end of the festivity forcing the Count to keep his promise.

When you book directly you help the same people who will be serving you...and "people do talk"...
​...just remember, on line booking companies don't care about keeping old clients, they want to attract new ones..

Remember that some of the hotels might be reached ONLY on foot , which means that you might have to carry your luggage yourself  up and down stairs.  
Contact them  by E-mail - Do Not Be Shy - Ask for any possible discount being offered.
​Is there any parking? - Transportation from & to? - Internet? Brakfast? Kids discount?
Get  a name - Most  likely you will meet this same person when you get there.
An exquisite example of preservation philosophy that seek to provide modern amenities while retaining the ancient rupestrian charm of this unique place on hearth.
Hotels - Prices quoted are in €
L'Hotel in Pietra  - www
from 70 t0 150 x night
Locanda di San Martino - www
from 89 to 200 x night
Basilian Hotel - www
from 92
Palazzo degli Abbati - www
from 141
Palazzo Viceconte - www
From 89
Caveoso Hotel - www
Le Dodici Lune - www
Corte San Pietro - www
Hotel Nazionale - www
B & B
La dolce vita B&B - www    
Richiedi l'anteprima gratuita della tua pagina ospitale -Potrai valutarla senza impegni, e poi decidere se attivarla - 
Una pagina ospitale  ti consente di presentare meglio la tua attività alle migliaia di visitatori con foto, testi e link aggiornabile. 

Yes  by all means...wonder around and about ...but to make this an educative visit and to better understand what is that you are looking at, we strongly suggest to join a guided tour, especially if you wish to take a look at the Sassi from the ravine and visit some of the cave churches.
Tour guides have access to places you wouldn't be able to enter on your own.

Don't worry about finding one, you will be approached as soon you steep out of the hotel or when entering the city if you travel by car.


Selected for You
Matera - Italy - Unesco World Heritage Site

The  Passion

Matera - starry night sky
Once a year for 15 minutes the “Sassi” is lit by only candlelight....check the videos below...


Richiedi l'anteprima gratuita della tua pagina ospitale - Potrai valutarla senza impegni, e poi decidere se attivarla .
Una pagina ospitale  ti consente di presentare meglio la tua attività alle migliaia di visitatori con foto, testi e link aggiornabile. 

La vetrina ideale per promuovere i vostri prodotti e servizi sul mercato Nord Americano ma che potrebbe essere un punto di visibilità anche nei vari mercati internazionali.


Ai  nostri  visitatori piace il Sud Italia, vuoi  dire loro qualcosa?
Il nostro obiettivo e' quello di promuovere prodotti tipici del Sud in un contesto di marketing globale, e allo stesso tempo proporre 
il nostro Meridione come alternativa turistica, ben consapevoli che il successo dell'uno è essenziale per il successo dell'altro.​

Paesi di provenienza dei  visitatori in ordine numerico
Stati Uniti - Canada - Italia - Gran Bretagna - Australia - China - Germania - Francia - Nuova Zelanda - Olanda

Coloro interessati ad inserire la loro attivita'/azienda/ nel sito   
sono pregati di  mettersi in contatto  usando il  modulo sottostante .
Per saperne di piu'...

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO?...suggested links..
Top of the page
​Matera Province
Potenza Province
Guardia Perticara

~ Of Interest ~
Basilicata at glance  - The Basilian monks from Southern Italy

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