Matera is a very unique town of southern Italy, in the Basilicate region. It is known worldwide because of the Sassi, a very well preserved rock-cut settlement. Find out more about this Heritage Site here and browse through the stories my photographs tell!
The Sassi, the ancient heart of the city, were built in prehistoric times by carving the tufa stones of the canyon made by the river Gravina. Caves are carved out one above the other and arranged in a seemingly chaotic way until it is realized that the caves are really a labyrinth of houses.
As you stroll the city, you may stop to realize that the road you are on is the roof of the cave homes that lie beneath you.
Elegant and multi-faceted buildings are interspersed with underground mazes and cave labyrinths, forming one single stunning landscape. Yet why has the mystical rock of Matera been abandoned for so many years? Why has the historical center become a ghost town? The answer lies in the slow, progressive and inexorable destruction of the ecosystem which began at the end of the eighteenth century and caused a breakup of the natural equilibrium of the environment.
In the late 1800s, over-population of the town site drove people back into the Sassi, making them the neighborhoods of the abject poor. At first families lived in the bare caves. Later these developed into house-like structures.
The Sassi were evacuated by law in 1952, when 15,000 people, living in extremely poor hygienic circumstances, were resettled to new quarters.
In recent years, however, the local administration has become quite tourism-oriented and has promoted the popularity of the Sassi with the help of european community and Unesco, the italian government and even Hollywood. (Mel Gibson shot hère the film The passion of Christ in 2004, but the history of Matera is full of other famous cinematic events, as over forty films have been shot by directors as accomplished as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Lattuada.
Most vehicular traffic is banned from the city centre and there is a sense of an otherworldliness, of another time. You’ll be hailed by private guides offering to show you inside one of the cave dwellings for a fee.
Once you’ve had your rest, don’t forget to stop in to some of the churches. The massive Duomo sits on a height of land offering expansive views. Charming cobblestone streets lead back down the steep incline.