My first view of Matera appeared as an untidy heap of tan rock buildings and caves that seemed to rise from the earth. As I scanned the city, my eyes searched for a break of greenery and open expanse, but there was very little to be found. What I saw was layers upon layers of history, crowded and jumbled together in chaos. It was unbelievable and a bit discomforting at first.
I have never seen anything like Matera. Located in Basilicata in the most southern part of Italy, it is one of the few places that has been continually inhabited. Stark and bleak, there was little color to give it warmth. And yet, I was drawn to this antiquated city. Matera shows her face without shame. She has been through too much in her long life, dating back 7,000 years from paleolithic times.
As part of the Sassi, a fascinating land of cave dwellings and rock churches and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Matera has recently been awarded the title of European Capital of Culture for 2019. The city will draw many from around the world to discover its diverse history and culture, with the hope of bringing about significant long term economic, cultural and social benefits.
Matera began as a troglodyte society, cave dwellers. During the classical and medieval period, many artists and peasants found their home among these caves and rock buildings. Then in the 1950’s, Matera earned the reputation of being “the shame of Italy” due to the extreme poverty of the people. It was then that the entire population of an estimated 16,000 farmers and peasants were relocated to new government housing nearby, which left Matera an empty shell.
But today Matera is experiencing a rebirth that is truly exciting to see. Extensive restorations are now housing cave hotels, private homes, and restaurants. During my stay here, I enjoyed dining in a charming cave restaurant and even spent a few nights in a cistern that had been refurbished.
Below are some photos of my time spent in Matera. I plan to be back in 2019, to see Matera beautifully adorned and enjoying the recognition she so much deserves.
Church of San Giovanni Battista ~ consecrated in the year 1233
The 18th century Church of the Pergatory