Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 21, 2019

Life in a Matera cave house

The cave dwellings in Matera have been lived in for centuries. They were inhabited until the 1950s when the Sassi dwellers were relocated to more modern housing.

Life was pretty grim in the early 1900s. The residents suffered from malaria, dysentry, eye infections, starvation and malnutrition. Caves were dug into the edges of the ravine where large families lived with their animals.

Now that the residents have been moved out of the ravine onto higher ground the old cave houses have been turned into hotels, shops and restaurants.

There are a few that have been maintained as they would have been. We visited one while we were in Matera.

This old photo is an entrance to a cave house.

We entered the house into one small room with a tiny kitchen off to one side. It had one bed, so I guess everyone crowded into that.


This is a well, there was water stored below the houses…a lot easier than carting it from an external well.

At the back of the room was a stable where animals would have been kept. This would have helped to keep the family warm in winter, but probably didn’t smell all that fresh. At least in a cave the temperature variations over the seasons wouldn’t have been too extreme.

As I said, life must have been grim. The house looks quaint, but filled with children of various ages and animals it would have been crowded and chaotic. I wonder how the people felt when they were moved to their new houses.


  1. I don’t think I would have enjoyed that kind of life,,. Particularly the smell…

    • It would not be for me either, but I suppose there was little choice.

  2. I’ve visited that same cave house, and stayed in a converted cave!

    • It is certainly interesting!

      • Indeed!

  3. I imagine that the even temperature was most likely the only ‘star’ that housing would have garnered, but your family and enough to eat was probably the only consideration – with electricity it looks really charming.

    • I don’t like the sound of malaria and starvation much.

  4. I’m way too germaphobic to even think about living in a cave. And I can imagine there would be a lot of dust and damp. But it was shelter.

    • The whitewashing would help, but given a choice I would have my house any day.

  5. Wow it’s quite nice inside! I’ve been inside a cave house in the Yukon and I was surprised at how well decked out it was.

    • The space was tiny. It would be OK for a couple of people, but I suspect the families were large and they would have been living on top of each other.

  6. Great photos. Maybe a short stay in a cave would be interesting

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