The Sassi of Matera are ancient cave dwellings and represent the historic centre of the city of Matera. Matera is also a province in the region of Basilicata, Southern Italy. This region forms the instep of the Italian “boot”. In Matera, buildings climb up and down the sides of a hill. Houses are built on top of each other and the overall effect is breathtaking, as you can see in our featured cover photo.
The Sassi of Matera: a cultural landscape
These constructions are very very old. The most ancient Sassi appeared thanks to a prehistoric troglodyte settlement, probably starting from 7000 BC. The name came from the origins of these houses. In fact, ancient districts are partially cut from the rock face.
“the most outstanding example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean” (UNESCO)
The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera have been listed as World Heritage property by UNESCO since 1993 and even if most of Italian tours do not always include this small treasure, it is well worth going to one of the most unique and spectacular places of Southern Italy and of the whole country. Maybe a place that is unique in the entire world.
Some parts of the city are two thousand years old and it looks very much like what ancient Judea must have looked like. The architecture of the city, its rocks and the surrounding landscape are all excellent backdrops. The first time I saw Matera, I went crazy, because it was simply perfect. (Mel Gibson)
The Sassi have been defined as a ‘cultural landscape‘ because they symbolize the story of human settlements and lifestyle. Matera is one of the most ancient towns in the world and its multi-faceted buildings constitute a stunning, peculiar landscape.
• Our tip: visit it also at night if you can. The town becomes a living nativity scene after the sunset. You will be lucky to see a cityscape of incomparable beauty when the glow of the small lights turn the Sassi into something else.
Living the past today
The Sassi of Matera were once the heart of life and culture. To date, the district has been renovated. Now it lives a new life and it is not difficult to tailor-make trips to Basilicata if you turn to the right travel agency. You can live similar experiences in other places such as Pompeii and its archaeological area. But in Matera, people are actually living in prehistoric houses!
In Matera, you will live a special conflicting experience. While visiting one of the most ancient town of the world you can enjoy a taste of luxury. If you wish, you may stay in beautiful exclusive luxury hotels with sublime spa, views and suites. We are talking about the luxury of the unique experience, the luxury of the once-off, of a unique setting and backstory. An example? Francis Ford Coppola’s exclusive Palazzo Margherita is nearby and other amazing five star hotel (Palazzo Gattini or Le Grotte della Civita, for example) could be the perfect choice for you.
This is possible because after 2003 – when Mel Gibson (yes this is why we quoted him) shot much of ‘The Passion of the Christ‘ in Matera’s surroundings – the town has been brought to wider attention and there is a renewed interest in it, its Sassi and the whole region of Basilicata.
So, what are you waiting for?
Basilicata is every year more and more appreciated as a tourist destination. Luckily it has not yet changed in its spirit. It hosts amazing Greek and Roman ruins; good beaches; great food and ever-improving wines you will not find anywhere else; sublime views and scenery, including Monte Pollino national park.
There is no excuse. One of your next destinations has just been described.