A walking tour in Matera to discover its Sassi, the archaic buildings of the historic center carved in the limestone
Matera (pic n°1), the city of the Sassi. Sassi (Stones) is the name that has been traditionally given to the buildings which Matera's historic center is made of. Completely carved into the limestone, these archaic buildings are composed of a set of caves that the shepherds used to carve into the rock to protect their families and animals, without following any architectural projects.
In that way, Sassi has become a unique urban area which perfectly blends with the surrounding arid territory of Basilicata, a region that has been inhabited since the Paleolithic. We have had evidence of the Sassi since the thirteenth century, and the peoples who have followed here each other throughout the centuries have left a complex urban system building more and more new buildings in the natural cavities. Later, between the nineteenth and twentieth century, the neighborhood composed of the Sassi became the home to the poorest classes of the city.
In the last few decades, the municipality of Matera has invested in order to rehabilitate and sanitize the area. Today, it is possible to visit the original nucleus of Sassi, with houses carved into the rock and into the tuff. A visit to this one-of-a-kind corner of the world will allow experiencing that unique feeling of being in a fairytale while being lost in southern Italy. So, today, the Sassi of Matera and their unique architecture represent a monumental attraction for millions of visitors coming from all over the world.
Thanks to the beautiful and unique environment, since the place is amazing also because this wonderful maze of alleys and underground caves overlook Gravina valley, a breathtaking valley with wonderful landscapes, Matera has also been the set for many famous Italian or Hollywoodian movies such as the Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of Christ".
Sassi di Matera has been listed among the World Human Heritage sites by UNESCO since 1993, because it represents a unique urban ecosystem in the world, and where the ancient style of living in caves has been transmitted until today. Also, Matera has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2019.
The center is divided into two different districts, Sasso Barisano, and Sasso Caveoso, linked by the hill of Civita, where the oldest buildings stand.
We suggest visiting this historic center by walk and/or with guided tours, the easiest way to explore the ancient buildings, the rural houses, the ancient wine cellars, and some of the many rocky churches.
In Sasso Caveoso, you can visit Church San Pietro Caveoso (pic n°3);, located in the namesake square overhanging Gravina, originally built between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. As it was overwhelmed by many reconstruction works in different eras today it shows Baroque, Roman and other elements. Spectacular views from the square!
Also, do not forget to pay a visit to Casa Grotta, a typical house with the typical ancient furniture, which will give you an idea of how the family life in a Sasso used to be.
Some of the attractions and monuments we also suggest visiting:
- Church San Pietro Barisano, the largest rock church of the city;
- Church Santa Lucia alle Malve (pic n°2), with some of the most beautiful and important wall paintings of this area;
- Church Santa Maria de Idris (pic n°3), located inside the rocky spur overlooking the Monterrone Caveoso in a wonderful location offering a unique view of the city and Gravina;
- Church Santa Barbara, dating back to the 10th or 11th century and considered to be one of the most beautiful rocky church of the Sassi;
- The Romanesque-Pugliese style Cathedral of Matera (pic n°6) was built in 1270 on the hill of Civita, the highest point of the city, where the first settlements of the Sassi were established;
Some pics of the Sassi, Matera:
Matera, view of the Sassi (pic n°1); Church Santa Lucia alle Malve - inside (pic n°2); Church San Pietro Caveoso (left) and Church Santa Maria de Idris (at the very top, inside the rock) (pic n°3); View of the Sassi (pic n°4, pic n°5); Cathedral of Matera (pic n°6);