All roads lead to Rome but I’m a believer in detours! Matera is a detour that I made 4 years ago and it called me back! The cave-dwellings of Matera, the sassi, are unlike anything I had ever seen before or since.
When I left this medieval city in 2012, I knew that I would return. I couchsurfed back then and my host was gracious enough to offer me a couch for my visit this time. You couldn’t ask for a nicer host or a better location as his home is right in the sassi! I didn’t get to see him much, though, as he had recently opened his own vegetarian restaurant and wine bar, Fior di Cucuzza! Amazing food and wines!
From the train station, I hauled all of my packs through modern Matera past shops, banks, and baroque churches. Though I had been there before, the sudden change from modern to ancient is stunning and put a huge grin on my face.
Obviously, the only way to see the sassi is on foot. Considering that’s my “thing”, I was in bliss! The sassi is made up of two areas, Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. I was unaware of that until a conversation with an old Italian man who was compelled to share the pride he has for his ancient town.
Like the cave-dwellings themselves, the history of the sassi of Matera is very interesting and unusual. Thought to be one of the first Italian settlements, going back as far as 7000 BC, it is also the only place in the world where families live in the homes of their ancestors of 9000 years ago! In the 1950’s, it was a much different place than now and was a source of shame for Italy. People suffered from malaria and poverty and lived in such squalor in the caves that the government ordered new housing to be built in the modern part of Matera. Since the 1980’s, the more wealthy moved back to the caves, renovating them and so began the sassi’s climb to chic.
There are cave restaurants, museums, churches, hotels, galleries, shops, and homes…all climbing the hillside, one on top of the other. Carved out of the limestone rock and hanging on the edge of a ravine. You’ll get your exercise wandering the seemingly infinite alleyways, tripping over uneven stone stairways, or even hiking a trail through the ravine to the uninhabited caves above!
Matera isn’t overrun with tourists yet but the word is getting out and, like me, you may find yourself yearning to go back!