Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 28, 2019

Matera, city of Sassi

We included Matera on our visit to Puglia. It is actually in Basilicata, the province near Puglia. It was a short drive from Lecce, our favourite stop in Puglia.

Sassi are the habitations dug into the calcareous rock that lines the ravine created by the Gravina River. The sassi of Matera are found on the edges of the ravine and along the top of the ridge that form the town.

Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world. It has been in existence since prehistoric times. Cave houses are built on top of one another along narrow streets and alleys, forming courtyards and squares. There are 150 houses of worship carved out of the rock. It makes for an interesting place to visit.

By the early 1900s the town inhabitants were living in extreme poverty with illness brought on from unhealthy living conditions. They suffered from malaria, starvation, disease and malnutrition. In the 1950s the government forcefully relocated the 16,000 residents to more modern housing nearby.

The town was virtually abandoned until descendants were later encouraged to bring the town back to life. Few people actually wanted to live in old cave houses so they were turned into shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, hotels and art galleries and the tourists began to arrive.

Matera was named 2019 European Capital of Culture in Italy and since 1993 it has been on the World Heritage List.

When we arrived it was raining and the town looked a bit drab, so here is a photo from later when the sun came out. It is stunning!

We found our accommodation, Pietragialla, not far into town. Our charming host kindly drove us back up to the top of the new town where our car was parked and brought us back with our cases. We had our own terrace overlooking the town.

Once we had settled in we headed off to explore. We wandered up the hill via a series of laneways, steps and tunnels to the top to the area known as Civita, the oldest part of the settlement. This separates the town into 2 parts, Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso.

At the top is the cathedral of Matera which dates from the 13th century. Its current appearance dates from the 18th century Baroque restoration, while many of the decorations feature biblical symbols dating from the Middle Ages.


After visiting the cathedral we wandered down the other side of the ridge into the Sasso Caveoso area.

San Giovanni in Monterrone and Santa Maria di Idris sit on top of a spur which rises from Sasso Caveoso. The 2 churches are carved out of the rock. Photos were not allowed inside. St Idris has been mentioned in documentations since the 14th century and has a system of cisterns and tanks used for water collection.

Nearby is the church San Pietro e Paolo al Caveoso, begun at the beginning of the 13th century. The facade has 3 portals in Baroque style, each one topped by a niche with a statue.

We walked along the street below the church. It offers great views of different aspects of Matera.

A selection of art dotted the area, including a few exhibits by Salvador Dali.

Beside the Casa Grotta, the cave house mentioned in the previous post, was a chapel dug into the cliff.

…another church.

My favourite was the San Pietro Barisano dating from the 11th century. The interior was completely carved from the rock. There are some stunning frescoes from the 15th century and a crypt that was once used as a burial site. I really wish I had been allowed to take photos in this church. If the attendant had not been hovering around I would have.

I spotted a couple of renovator’s delights in case you are interested in moving to Matera.

Here are a few more photos of sunny Matera.

We had breakfast near our accommodation in a great little cafe. The owner told us he made fresh pasticciotti every morning and we are happy about that.


It would be a pity to spend just one day in Matera, there is a lot to explore.


  1. Ah, thanks for the trip down memory lane – I visited Matera about 7 years ago, and stayed in a converted cave – I was entranced by the town

    • It is certainly an interesting place to visit.

      • With a sad history

  2. I stayed in SAN Hotel Gorgio this June, was amazing, like having my own apartment.
    I am still looking to buy in Bagni de Lucca, a artist, an Australian has a small apartment for sale which looks interesting, we may bump into each other one day.
    Ciao Maxene

    • I am in Bagni di Lucca now for a while. It is a lovely place to be.

  3. What a beautiful gem , this town is. thank you for sharing, Debrah

    • It is an amazing place. I’m pleased we went back a second time. Our first visit coincided with a public holiday and it was so crowded we could barely move.

  4. Cave dwellings still exist in many places but the ones in Matera are a world reference. They are fully habitable and even beautifully appointed nowadays, but I do not want to think at what they must have been like say 100 or even 50 years ago…
    No matter their current conditions and how typical they look… give me Bagni di Lucca any time…

    • I’m with you! It must have been dismal to live in these dwellings, especially in winter.

  5. Thos cave buildings are so striking! I can see why people may not want to live in them but for a shop or a restaurant that’s a great idea.

    • They didn’t want to go back to the old town because of the cramped conditions and the lack of facilities. Having to walk up the steep hill to go to school or go shopping did not appeal.

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