Matera – I Sassi

Sassi di Matera – Photo © Clemensfranz

Matera, capital of the province since 1926, will astonish any visitor with its extraordinary past full of history, art, culture and wise saying. The ditched villages of the Murgia Plateau and its archeological heritage witness the permanent presence of mankind from the Stone Age up to present times.

Town of one hundred and more rock-hewn churches, revealing Latin and Byzantine frescoes, inspired by the mysticism of solitary monks and embodied in religious art.

Matera is the town of the Sassi, the ancient quarters that, shrouded in archaic charm, are an example of an incomparable urban structure: Sassi and the facing Murgia Plateau are now inscribed on the World Heritage List on behalf of UNESCO, a patrimony belonging to all mankind.

Matera San Francesco – Photo Tourist Agency of Basilicata

Of equal charm are the small towns and villages surrounding Matera, with their characteristic and lovely town centers, whose ancient streets will amaze the passers-by, who cannot but perceive the efforts and the hardships of the people, and that will also reveal traditions, folk celebrations, religious feasts, the spontaneous hospitality and the inviting food.

A totally enrapturing territory, from the grandeur of its Jonian coasts with fine sandy shores and its original naturalistic environment to the charm of the ravines, monasteries and the “incandescent” gullies, all gems that will enchant its visitors.

Matera: (401 m. above sea level) still bears the unique signs of history and prehistory. Dating as far back as the period of the Punic Wars, Matera sheltered the fugitives of Metapontum and Heraclea. Thus, its name may derive from the combination of the first three letter of the names of the villages above-mentioned (Met – Era), even most learned men claim that it could also derive from “Mata”, which means “heaps of rocks”.

According to some people, Matera, that used to be part of Apulia, was probably founded in 251 B.C. by Metello (a Roman Consul) who called it Matheola. It is only in the 9th century that this theory was confirmed by some more reliable information. Later on, after the succession of various rulers, the “Tramontano” came to reign by investiture on behalf of Ferdinand of Aragon. On 1514 December, 29 during a popular uprising, Count Giovanni Carlo Tramontano was killed because of his cruelty towards the peasants.

Matera Castle – Photo Tourist Agency of Basilicata

Matera was the capital of the region from 1663 since 1806, when Joseph Bonaparte transferred this prestigious role to the town of Potenza

Now Matera is the residence of the archbishop and boasts the important 13th century Cathedral as well as the churches of St. Domenico, St. Giovanni Battista, St. Francesco d’Assisi, St. Chiara, Purgatory, St. Francesco da Paola and many others, whose characteristic architecture represent the different ages and their fine workmanship.

The particular characteristic of the land, its morphology and that of the Murgia Plateau of Matera encouraged, between the 8th and 13th centuries, the development of an intense monastic movement that found the ancient cave. Dwellings as the ideal habitat for monasteries and rock-hewn churches since they reproduced the original pattern of those existing in their own countries.

Throughout the countryside of Matera there are more than 130 rock-hewn churches, some of them are underground churches, whereas the others are carved into the rock integrating with the outside constructions that witness the presence of Latin and Greek-Byzantine monastic cultures in Matera, their meeting point throughout the centuries.

The Cathedral stands on a rise overlooking the two valleys of the Sassi, that in ancient times was the site of the Church of St. Eustachio. It’s an outstanding example of Romanesque-Apulian architecture; the pediments mounted on its altars originally belonged to the destroyed temples of Metaponto. The frescoes are from the school of Naples. The elaborate Stone Nativity, sculptured by the artist Altobello Persio from Montescaglioso, is very interesting.

The construction of the Cathedral, commissioned by Archbishop Andrea started in 1230 and ended in 1270. The Cathedral of Matera has one never and two aisles and represent the perfect blend of art and faith. The former representing the best expression of man’s skills; the latter as an engagement to defy the passing of time and the loss of its true religious significance.

Matera Museum Oridola – Photo Tourist Agency of Basilicata

The National Museum Domenico Ridola is named after its founder, a doctor and archaeologist famous throughout Europe. He was born in Ferrandina. a small town in Basilicata and died in 1932. He founded the museum in 1910 and later he donated it to the Italian Government.

Dr. Ridola explored the subsoil of the area surrounding Matera, in particular the area of Timmari, discovering important archaeological treasures such as the prehistoric tools made of smooth stone, sarcophaguses with historiated crockery and lachrymatories, statues, primordial weapons, necklaces, coins etc. At present, the Museum is divided into large rooms where all the findings are displayed. Each of these rooms have been named after the sites where the findings were discovered.

Where to stay in Matera

Hotels, apartments, B&Bs and villas can be searched and reserved here.