SASSI OF MATERA

The Sassi of Matera are a true natural and architectural wonder located in Basilicata, bordering with Puglia.

This area, consisting of numerous rock settlements carved into tuff, has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times.

In fact, the Sassi of Matera are considered one of the most stable and ancient human settlements in the world, with a history dating back over 9,000 years.

The houses carved into the rock, which make up the Sassi, were built using natural materials such as the local limestone called tuff.

The inhabitants of Matera have transformed these dwellings into welcoming and comfortable places, creating indoor spaces that extend over multiple levels.

Sometimes the roof of a house serves as a floor for accessing other layers of houses.

The Sassi of Matera were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993, to recognize their extraordinary beauty and above all their cultural and historical value.

Today, the Sassi of Matera are one of Italy's most popular tourist destinations, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world every year.

They offer an opportunity to immerse oneself in the history and culture of the unique ancient area, as well as to admire the natural beauties of the surrounding areas.

If you visit the Sassi of Matera, you can also discover the numerous cultural and artistic activities that take place in this area, such as concerts, art exhibitions, musical events, and popular festivals.

What are the Sassi of Matera

The Sassi of Matera were originally a rocky environment that extended on the opposite side of the canyon carved by the Gravina di Matera.

The western slope on which this city was built is composed of steep walls overlooking a stream below and terraces, hills, and plateaus more suitable for human settlement at the top.

These places, which were transformed from rock villages into a real city over the millennia, were originally part of the rocky environment.

The oldest human settlements in Matera date back to the Paleolithic period and developed in caves in the rocky environment of the city.

Over time, humans continued to modify this landscape, digging and shaping the bedrock, exploiting mainly tuff, a friable rock that offered exceptional settlement opportunities protected from the weather.

The environments carved into these caves constituted the first form of urban settlement, which still exists in most of the buildings and structures built over the last millennium.

After going through the prehistoric phases of the Paleolithic, Neolithic, and various ages of metals, the history of Matera is strongly influenced by the arrival of Christianity.

The Christian imprint quickly becomes culturally dominant.

During the Middle Ages, the rocky landscape was systematically modified by the construction of imposing places of worship, such as the majestic Cathedral of Matera, the church of San Giovanni Battista, the Church of S. Domenico, and the Church of Santa Maria della Valle Verde on the Appian Way.

In this period, a real city is formed concentrated around the Cathedral, located at the top of the Civita hill, which divides the Sassi into two: the Sasso Barisano facing east and the Sasso Caveoso facing south.

Visit the Sassi of Matera

The Sassi of Matera today offer visitors a culturally significant landscape that led to the site's inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Architecturally, they feature an extraordinary series of elements that have been layered over time, ranging from the man-made cave complexes to rock churches, burial areas, alternating with buildings from various periods, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, Baroque, and modern era.

One can find caves, underground areas, mansions, churches, neighborhoods, staircases, balconies, gardens, and orchards nestled into each other, creating a unique and magical place.

Walking along the main street that connects the two Sassi districts, via Bruno Buozzi, via Madonna delle Virtù, via Sant'Antonio, and via D'Addozio, it is possible to cross this landscape and admire simultaneously that of the opposite slope of Murgia Materana, which can be reached on foot via the Tibetan Bridge.

It is possible to explore the numerous alleyways that alternate between buildings, arches, and staircases and discover always new and surprising corners.

History of the Sassi of Matera

The history of Matera is often identified with that of the Sassi, the two main districts that make up the historic center of the city: the Civita and the Piano. The name "Sassi" refers to the dual nature of these districts, rather than the houses and local dwellings built within them.

The Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso are located around the Civita. The Sasso Barisano, located to the northwest, takes its name from the city of Bari. Originally, it was the main part of the Sassi together with the Civita.

The Sasso Caveoso, located to the south, takes its name from the city of Montescaglioso, known in the Early Middle Ages as Mons Caveous. It is characterized by houses dug into the tuff, built one on top of the other.

The excavated material was used to create the front of the dwelling, closing the "cave" and giving rise to the name "cave-house".

The arrangement of these houses resembles the seating of a theater, with cave-houses descending in tiers towards the gorge. Originally, this area was secondary to the Civita and the Sasso Barisano, and became inhabited only after a strong influx of Balkan populations in the 16th century.

Matera is one of the oldest cities in the world, with settlements dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. Many of the houses carved into the limestone have been continuously inhabited since the Bronze Age.

The first mention of the Sassi as an inhabited rocky district dates back to a document from 1204. Throughout history, many different populations and cultures have inhabited the city.

The depopulation of the Sassi of Matera

The expulsion of the population from the Sassi of Matera, which took place in the 1950s, was a decision made by the political authorities of the time, including the Minister of the Interior Luigi Ruffolo and the Mayor of Matera Giuseppe Gazzoni, under pressure from international organizations such as UNESCO and FAO, who considered the hygienic and housing conditions of the Sassi inadequate.

The Italian Communist Party, of which Togliatti was a prominent exponent, and the Christian Democratic Party, in government with De Gasperi, were then allies in the government coalition and shared the need to improve the living conditions of the Italian population.

However, the decision to evacuate the population from the Sassi was controversial and criticized by many for the lack of adequate alternative solutions and for the destruction of the city's historical and cultural heritage.

In any case, the expulsion represented a turning point for Matera and its inhabitants, who gradually saw their living conditions improve thanks to the construction of new housing and the development of economic and tourist activities.


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The Sassi are a cultural landscape, according to the definition used when they were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993.

They were the first site inscribed in southern Italy.

The inscription was motivated by the fact that they represent an exceptional urban ecosystem, capable of perpetuating ways of living in caves from the earliest prehistoric past to modernity.

The Sassi of Matera are an exceptional example of careful use of natural resources over time: water, soil, energy.

The Sassi of Matera are a true gem of architecture and history.

They were the first southern Italian site to receive this prestigious recognition, whose award was motivated by the fact that these ancient neighborhoods represent an extraordinary urban ecosystem, capable of preserving the ways of living in caves from the earliest prehistoric past to the present day.

Furthermore, the Sassi of Matera are a unique example of how natural resources, such as water, soil, and energy, have been used accurately over time.

But the Sassi are not only a place of historical and architectural interest: they are also a true cultural landscape, capable of telling the story of an ancient city and a community that has been able to live in harmony with its natural environment through its houses carved into the rock, rock churches, and narrow alleys.

A unique place that deserves to be visited and discovered in every corner.

How to visit the Sassi of Matera

The Sassi of Matera are one of the most famous tourist attractions in Basilicata and can be visited in various ways:

With a guided tour

You can book a guided tour of the Sassi of Matera with an experienced tour guide who will take you to discover the most emblematic places of the city of stones and tell you the history and traditions of this unique place.

On your own

If you prefer to explore the Sassi of Matera on your own, you can follow an itinerary that will lead you to discover the most important places of the city, such as the Civita, the church of San Giovanni Battista, and the church of San Giovanni Battista. You can also use a map or our geolocated Interactive Map to orient yourself and discover all the beauties of Matera.

With an excursion

If you are on vacation near Matera, you can book an excursion to visit the Sassi and other attractions of Basilicata. This way you will have the opportunity to discover other places in the region and have an unforgettable experience.

With an organized tour

Finally, you can choose to participate in an organized tour of the Sassi of Matera that includes transportation, tour guide, and visits to the most important places of the city. This option is ideal if you don't have much time or if you want to have a complete and worry-free experience.

 

What to visit in Matera

Matera is a unique city that offers an unforgettable experience for those who visit it.

Immersed in the ancient atmosphere of the Sassi, one feels transported back in time, surrounded by a unique and fascinating architecture.

 

Itinerary 1: Sasso Caveoso

Sasso Caveoso is a place full of history and natural beauty.

You can immerse yourself in a unique atmosphere, surrounded by enchanting caves and ancient buildings that are part of it.

Among the main points of interest in Sasso Caveoso, we recommend the Church of Santa Lucia Alle Malve, a religious building dating back to the 9th century and which has undergone numerous restorations over the centuries.

Not far away, you can visit the Cistern House, a unique building that was used to collect and store rainwater.

The Water Collection is another interesting structure to visit, a system of channels and cisterns also used for the supply of rainwater for daily needs.

The Church of San Pietro Caveoso is another must-see for those who want to discover the beauty of Sasso Caveoso, a religious building dating back to the 13th century.

Not far from the church, you can admire the Cave House of Casalnuovo, a unique building that was used as a dwelling.

Santa Maria de Idris is a church that is located in a privileged position, overlooking the other houses.

The Cave House of Vicinato is another interesting building to visit, a cave that was used as a dwelling, as well as the Cave House of Vico Solitario, all must-see stops for those who want to discover the beauty of Sasso Caveoso.

In summary, Sasso Caveoso is a place full of history and natural beauty, a perfect place to discover the traditions and customs of an ancient community.

Itinerary 2: Sasso Barisano

Among the main points of interest in Sasso Barisano, we highlight La Casa di Ortega, an ancient restored dwelling, which preserves some works by the Spanish artist.

The Miniature Sassi are another attraction not to be missed, an area where you can admire the scaled replica of the Sassi of Matera.

The Casa Cava is another cave carved into the rock that now houses an auditorium for theatrical performances and concerts.

The Narrating Cave House is another interesting attraction, where you can listen to stories and legends related to Sasso Barisano.

The Church of Sant'Agostino is another must-see stop for those who want to discover the beauty of Sasso Barisano, a religious building dating back to the 13th century and located in a privileged position, close to the gravina.

The rock church of San Pietro del Barisano is another rock church not to be missed, a religious building built on catacombs carved into the rock, also visitable with the church.

The rock church of San Nicola dei Greci is another rock church to visit to admire its numerous rooms connected by corridors entirely excavated.

The MIB Immersive Museum of the Bruna is another interesting attraction, an interactive path that will make you experience an immersive experience of the tradition of Matera.

The "Once upon a time" cave house is another attraction not to be missed, a cave carved into the rock that was used as a dwelling, where you can live a unique experience and discover the traditions and customs of an ancient community represented by tuff figures skillfully created by Eustachio Rizzi, also the author of the Miniature Sassi.

In summary, Sasso Barisano is a place full of history and attractions.

Itinerary 3: Historical Center

The historical center of Matera is a charming and rich place full of history, which will allow you to comfortably stroll around a flat area, called "Il Piano," among eighteenth-century churches and unique panoramas. Among the main points of interest in the historical center of Matera, we point out Il Palombaro lungo, a huge visitable cistern that was used to collect and store rainwater.

Castello Tramontano is another attraction not to be missed, an ancient fortress located in a privileged position that offers a panoramic view of the city, always visitable from the outside.

Fontana Ferdinandea is another interesting attraction, a monument dating back to the 19th century and representing a symbol of the city of Sassi.

Matera Sum is another must-see attraction, an underground route of over 1000 meters that will make you experience an immersive experience inside the caves of the historic center of Matera. The Church of Purgatorio is another church not to be missed, a religious building decorated in a suggestive way.

The Church of San Francesco d'Assisi is another Baroque church, a religious building that gives its name to the square in which it is located.

The Church of Santa Lucia al Piano is another church not to be missed, a religious building located in the main square of the city of Sassi. The Church of Santa Chiara is another church to visit, a religious building located in a privileged position that houses the Ridola Museum in the adjacent rooms and a few steps away, you will find the medieval art museum.

The Church of San Giovanni Battista is another church not to be missed, a religious building located in the eponymous square characterized by a particular atmosphere.

The Church of San Francesco da Paola is another church not to be missed, located at the beginning of the historic center.

Palazzo del Sedile is another interesting building currently the seat of the Conservatory of Matera, which attracts students from all over Italy and the world.

Finally, there are numerous panoramic points to visit, such as Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Piazzetta Pascoli, and Piazza del Sedile, from where you can access all areas of the historic center and the Sassi.

Matera is a unique city that offers an unforgettable experience for those who visit it.

Immersed in the ancient atmosphere of the Sassi, one feels transported back in time, surrounded by a unique and fascinating architecture.

Itinerary 4: The Civita

The Civita is the highest point of the Sassi that houses numerous noble palaces, currently used as luxury hotels.

Among the main points of interest in the Civita, we recommend the Cathedral, the main religious building in Matera, located in a visible spot from the entire historic center.

Casa Noha is another must-see attraction. Casa Noha is an ancient residence managed by the FAI where you can immerse yourself in the history of this magnificent city.

The Musma is another interesting attraction to visit, where you can admire sculptures by local, national, and international artists.

The Musma is a meeting place between art and culture, a unique experience to discover the beauty of contemporary art.

Itinerary 5: By car

Among the attractions outside the urban circuit of Matera, there are some places that can be easily reached by car.

For example, the Palomba Sculpture Park is always open to the public and hosts a vast collection of stone and bronze sculptures.

The Palomba Church is located right next to the park and is another must-see stop.

Staying in that area, another place to visit by car is the Belvedere, a scenic point immersed in nature that offers a breathtaking view of the Sassi of Matera.

From the opposite side of the city, you can reach the Crypt of the Original Sin, considered one of the most beautiful in the area.

This crypt is located near Lake San Giuliano, an artificial basin that also houses a protected area managed by WWF.

Lake San Giuliano is a perfect place to spend time outdoors, enjoying the beauty of nature and the tranquility of the place.

Places to visit starting from Matera with a private shuttle

Matera is a city located in a strategic position and offers visitors many opportunities to explore the surroundings and visit other fascinating locations in the Puglia and Basilicata regions.

Organized tours starting from Matera allow you to visit some of the most beautiful destinations in the area, including:

Alberobello's trulli: an ancient village famous for its cone-shaped stone houses, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Altamura with Gravina: Two cities located in Puglia, known for the production of DOP bread and the presence of one of the oldest rock churches in Europe.

Trani with Castel del Monte: a coastal city with a beautiful cathedral and a castle built by Emperor Frederick II of Swabia.

Melfi with Venosa: two cities north of Basilicata, famous for their ancient history and the presence of vestiges from the Roman era, including an important amphitheater and a castle also built by Frederick II of Swabia.

Bari Vecchia: an ancient part of the city of Bari, with a charming historic center, churches, palaces, and a tourist port.

These organized tours are an excellent opportunity to discover the fascinating culture and landscape beauty of the surroundings and to appreciate the historical and cultural richness of the places visited comfortably accompanied by our private shuttles.