Matera, Italy – An incredibly Sassi city where life has continued since the stone age

Our trip to the heel of Italy took us to the region of Puglia. It’s the area in the heel that borders the Adriatic coast, but the region right next door is a region called Basilicata.

After our stay and adventures around the beautiful town of Alberobello, a UNESCO town, we made our way to Matera, just over the Puglia border.

Imagine a canyon with slopes called Sasso’s, collectively called Sassi’s. Slopes full of caves, occupied since the Palaeolithic (10th millennium BC) period. Over millennia constantly occupied and ruled by the RomansLombardsArabsByzantinesSwabiansAngevins, Aragonese, and Bourbons.

Matera has the enviable reputation too for being host to many films such as The Omen, The Passion of Christ, Tomorrow Never Dies and many many more.

The uniqueness of Matera cannot be understated. It is made up of three distinct areas; Sasso Barisano (this faces North towards Bari), Sasso Caveoso (facing South towards Montescaglioso) and the urban area just outside and isolated, called Civita.

In the 16th century the centre of public life moved outside the walls of the Sassi leaving a social divide between the elite and peasants. They no longer interacted.

It was not until the 20th century that the residents of Matera were moved out to help remove the shame they gave to Italy due to very poor living conditions, the city began to flourish from the early 90’s.

Today this picturesque and unique city attracts worldwide tourism after UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site in 1993, in 2019 Matera was declared the European Capital of Culture further encouraging unique cave hotels and restaurants.

It’s hilly, you walk everywhere but every corner provides a stunning image.

Yellow lights glow from the hundreds of nooks and crannies in the evening as this mystical city turns into a magical film set. People wander the many paths, streets and steps, eating inside and out in the many restaurants and seeking out the quaint shops that are hidden away.

We stayed at Le Malve Cave Retreat, a cave hotel that is still developing its caves, literally. You see, Matera restoration and reoccupation began in 1986 and the importance of the city and its history is now well documented. So whilst our host has developed the hotel and its cave rooms he does not own the caves.

As with many cities in Italy they are protected by the ZTL (Zone Traffic Limited) areas. Enter them and you’re fined unless during the limited time allowed to grab your luggage and leave.

We loved Matera and parked in a multi-storey car park, close to the entrance of the city.

Today you can find museums and attractions showing you what life was like in the early 19th century. It’s not a pretty site, nor comfortable to think that entire families less that 100 years ago lived with a horse in a cave, with little or no natural daylight, water or sanitation. The commode for the entire family being right next to the head of the bed.

I can’t recommend you visit this place enough!