Matera, the Sassi and the Murgia Materana Park

A walk through history

Like Tuscany and Sardinia, Basilicata is another wonderful Italian region to discover, and one of its most spectacular and intriguing cities is Matera.

Seen from the valley below, Matera, or the “City of the Sassi,” as it is called after its carved limestone caves, looks like a creche clinging to the hill. As it comes into sight, you can’t help but get excited; It doesn’t matter if it’s the first, or the millionth time.

Anyone who is lucky enough to visit this special place remains forever touched. It seems that little has changed in hundreds or even thousands of years.

In fact, historical findings show that this settlement was already populated in the Palaeolithic period, making it one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

Basilicata is in the deepest and most remote part of the southern Italian peninsula.

It is a land of ancient traditions, where life flows slowly and calmly, and meals are still based on healthy, wholesome and seasonal ingredients, that capture ancient flavors. Perhaps this is why Basilicata (and Matera) is one of the most popular and beloved destinations in Italy, visited daily by thousands of people from around the world, and featured in the New York Times and Lonely Planet as a place not to be missed in 2018.

The crowning jewel of this spectacular region is Matera, a city perched on and carved into the rock below. The “City of the Sassi,” (sassi meaning stones) offers visitors a unique setting like no other in the world, with picturesque ancient alleyways and winding streets, steep steps, arches, gardens and terraces all carved into the stone.

To add to the atmosphere, there are monumental churches, houses, palaces and fountains built on and into the bare rock. These neighborhoods in the heart of the city are still called the Sassi, just as they have been for generations. Here the almost blinding white of the tufa rock dominates the landscape, and the city has become the background of dozens of films that have found it to be an ideal setting.

Visitors to Matera describe it as an enchanted city, a magical fairy land, and the first “Cultural Landscape” of the world, a term coined for it specifically in 1993, when it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Matera is magnetic, fascinating, astonishing, and above all unique. From its highest point, where the Romanesque Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria della Bruna e di Sant’Eustachio) was erected in the Middle Ages, the Civita, or ancient city, cascades downward and is divided into two neighborhoods: Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso.

Matera, the Sassi and the Murgia Materana Park

A walk through history!

This collection of stones, streets, houses and priceless historical monuments, hides and guards the secret underground structures which have been excavated and carved out over the centuries.

In fact, under the surface of Matera, there is a labyrinth of caves, including numerous churches and exquisitely frescoed monasteries. There is also a network of enormous cisterns and a complex system of collecting and channeling water. This makes it one of the oldest and most well-preserved examples of bio-architecture in the world.

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In addition to its historical significance, Matera is also a city that looks to the future and innovation. It has recently been nominated as a European Capital of Culture for 2019, and is a hub of interesting art and cultural activities.

It is also an area surrounded by the pristine natural landscape of the Murgia Materana Park, which offers one of the most evocative and spectacular landscapes in the world. An incredible 8000 hectares, this regional park is home important natural habitats featuring canyons, streams, caves, flora, and fauna. It also preserves the remains of 150 medieval churches carved into the rock and embellished with spectacular paintings.

It is no coincidence that Enrico Ducrot has created a marvelous hotel here, Le Grotte della Civita.

What do you think? Is it worth going to Matera?

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