Sassi di Matera
There are so many beautiful places in Italy, but there is one very special place, off the beaten path in Southern Italy that transports you thousands and thousands years back in time. The Sassi di Matera (meaning “stones of Matera”) are ancient cave dwellings in the Italian city of Matera, Basilicata. At first it’s hard to believe you are even in Italy at all, it seems more like ancient site in Jerusalem.
City built into the hills with carved homes right into the “sassi” stones. The first inhabited zone dates from the Palaeolithic, while later settlements illustrate a number of significant stages in human history. People still lived in the cave-like homes without running water or electricity until the 1950’s.
Because of the unsanitary conditions in the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. However, people continued to live in the Sassi, and according to the English Fodor’s guide: Matera is the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago.
Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since these houses were, and in most areas still are, mostly unlivable. Current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and has promoted the re-generation of the Sassi. In 1993 it become one of Unesco’s World Heritage sites. Remember the Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ? It was shoot in Matera.
Today several caves have been carefully restored, parts as museum, but most as proper homes, or as holiday homes, small businesses, hotels, and B&Bs.
Isn’t this city amazing? So the next time you plan a trip to Italy, consider including Matera in your travel plans.
Fly to Bari airport in Puglia where you can rent a car and drive 70km / 40 miles west. It’s about 1h drive. Local trains run regularly from Bari’s Ferrovie Appulo Lucane Station (http://ferrovieappulolucane.it/) to Matera on weekdays and Saturdays.