Castle Tramonto, Matera, Basilicata, Southern Italy 


Matera…the Sassi Caves…just one of those places…the more I read and learn about, the more fascinated I become….I’m sure you’ll be hooked too!  It is considered to be, by some, one of the most extraordinary spots on earth, which is why it was listed as a UNESCO official World Heritage List location.

“The Sassi -Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the “Sassi di Matera” (meaning “stones of Matera”). The Sassi originate from a prehistoric (troglodyte) settlement, and are suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy.

The Sassi are houses dug into the rock itself, known locally as “Tufo”, which is characteritic of Basilicata and Puglia. Many of these “houses” are really only caverns, and the streets in some parts of the Sassi often are located on the rooftops of other houses. The ancient town grew in height on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream. The ravine is known locally as “la Gravina”.

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.   “

Current local administration has become more tourism-oriented, and has promoted the re-generation of the Sassi with the aid of the European Union, the government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels.

One of the benefits of the ancient city, is that there is a great similarity in the look of the Sassi with that of ancient sites in and around Jerusalem. This has caught the eye of film directors and movie studios.

Like every city or town in Italy, Matera has a number of churches. However, nowhere else in Italy, and possibly even the world, will one see such a diverse collection of buildings related to the Christian faith. Some even believe that the very first “churches” ever used for worship were formed in the slopes of the surrounding ravine.

Because of the ancient and primitive scenery in and around the Sassi, it has been used by filmmakers as the setting for ancient Jerusalem. The following famous biblical period movies were filmed in Matera:

  • Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964).

  • Bruce Beresford’s King David (1985).

  • Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004).

  • Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story (2006).

Other famous movies filmed in the city include:

  • Alberto Lattuada’s La Lupa (1953)

  • Giuseppe Tornatore’s L’uomo delle stelle (1995)

  • The Omen (2006)

Matera, Italy. (2007, June 9). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:11, June 12, 2007, from

Matera, the Jewel of Basilicata 

“A place to explore “Sassi” dwellings, learn of Lucanian culture and enjoy delicious food…

Matera is a suggestive, fascinating city with steep cliffs plummeting down into a deep chasm. It is one of the two main cities in the region of Basilicata and was called Lucania by the ancient Romans because of its dense woods. In the middle of the city’s green hills, an enchanted, peaceful haven in central southern Italy, one finds the famous Sassi homes dug directly into tufaceous rock. These dwellings tell age-old stories about the presence of Paleolithic man, making this one of the most suggestive locations in Europe. UNESCO included it on its World Heritage list in 1993 and Mel Gibson selected this location to shoot his latest film, “The Passion”. Today, together with the two neighborhoods of Barisano and Caveoso, it constitutes the city’s historical residential center. These ancient dwellings are found within two wide rocky cavities and are distinctive in their incredible rupestrian architecture which, instead of being built within empty space, were built into empty space. And this testimony of ancient civilization is there for the whole world to see.


The Piano or “Plain”, the part of the region’s capital which is developed on a plateau to the west of the Sassi, can actually consider itself Matera’s “other half”. Built on the base of traditional urban canons, with its churches, squares and palaces, it is the testimony of the 17th to the 19th centuries, when Matera was the capital of the Regia Udienza of Basilicata. Breathtaking views and fascinating churches in Romantic and Baroque style are just some of the beauty that this city has to offer. For a complete itinerary of the area of Matera, one should start off in Montescaglioso in the Bradano valley and stop to admire a collection of artifacts of ancient farming life at the Ethnographical Museum, located inside the church of St. Francis of Assisi. Returning to the valley, one comes across the Parco delle Chiese Rupestri, a concentration of numerous churches. Embellished with Byzantine frescoes and dug into the grottos, they provided shelter for monks who were escaping prosecution from the iconoclasm. Moving up along the coast, one reaches Pisticci and can then head towards one of the most famous archeological areas, the excavation site of Metaponto, with its streets, buildings, and other constructions brimming with history. Also to admire is Hera’s temple with its 15 doric columns, also called Tavole Palatine, as well as the sacred area of Apollo and the theater.


The culinary tradition of this area is connected to pastoral farming, which can be rediscovered in recipes from the inland. These create a perfect fusion with the flavors of the highly fertile area along the Ionian coast. For this reason, in the trattorie and farm holiday locations, one can enjoy dishes of pasta and vegetables, a part of the most modern Mediterranean diet, and second courses of meat with the strong flavors of ancient Lucania. Among the typical dishes of the area are those made of bread, such as the parataccone, a hard bread cooked with turnips and hot pepper, or pignata in crosta di pane, with mutton and wild herbs, which you can taste at the restaurants “Venusio” and “Le Spighe”. Also worth trying is nghenderata, a dish offered to guests at the Favale castle, made of salted pork prepared with seasonings and sealed in a jar. There is also a wide variety of cheeses, such as varieties of fresh or aged caprino, ricotta, caciocavallo and scamorza. As for wine, although it is not strictly connected to Matera, is Aglianico, a red wine with DOC status from the area of Monte Vulture. Its grapes grown in hilly volcanic areas, it is an excellent accompaniment for roasts, grilled meats and game.”


Author: Adele Lapertosa 



Matera is Great Day-Trip from Calitri – Driving Directions


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