Matera among the rocks, a step into another age and another world

Another age, another world. That's the feeling you get when you first take a look at this unique city of Matera and its fascinating Sassi district. It's a place that leaves no one untouched and that everyone must see.

Jesus’ time

Walking among the tufa houses, churches carved into the rock and ancient cave dwellings, you feel as if you’ve travelled back in time centuries or even millennia. It’s no coincidence that several famous directors have chosen Matera as the location for their Jesus film, just to mention Pier Paolo Pasolini or Mel Gibson in more recent times (in the video here you can see a scene from the film The Passion of the Christ and get an impression of the atmosphere of the place).

Matera Basilicata

A thousand-year-old rock city

This place, where people have lived since the Stone Age, is timeless and unique: a land full of natural beauty, traditions, hidden treasures, millennia of culture and architectural wonders.
The city of rocks, named European Capital of Culture in 2019, has the Sassi (rocks) district as its main attraction. The historic city centre is a fascinating mix of caves, houses, alleys, churches, panoramic rocks and underground passages, which is now a tourist attraction but was abandoned in the mid-20th century.
The unique architectural complex blends perfectly into the wild landscape. The Sassi are a unique reminder of the past: we can imagine how people lived in cave-dwelling times until they built “modern” houses centuries later.

Could you live in a cave?

Perhaps the most amazing thing is that many of the cave dwellings here were still inhabited by people in the 1950s and 1960s, and often in pretty incredible conditions. At that time, this area was considered a “national disgrace”, the people who lived there were evicted and the old part of the city was left to its fate. Fortunately, about thirty years later, reconstruction of the area began, and so today we can enjoy the time travel and breathtaking panoramas that Sassi offers.
If you want to get a feel for what it was like to live here in the 20th century, you must visit the most famous cave dwelling, which has been furnished in style for the delight of visitors. Until 1957, a family of eleven lived here, making a living from farming, together with their animals. The cave consists of a single living space, partly carved into the rock and partly built on top of it. Today you can still see the furniture and tools of that time, the fireplace, the small family table with a single bowl in the middle, the mattress filled with corn husks, the bedside table, the loom, the feeding place for the animals and the caves where manure or rainwater was collected. A visit that’s fascinating and shocking at the same time.

Church on the hill

This unique city offers a special architectural attraction. I highly recommend a visit to one of the many cave churches. These sanctuaries were carved out of the rock by monks in the late Middle Ages, and you’ll often find interesting works of art inside. Don’t miss the cathedral, which rises at the highest point of the city and dominates the cityscape of Matera. The 13th century church houses several beautiful works of art, but perhaps the most interesting attraction is the stone nativity scene.

Matera Basilicata
blank76 (Pixabay)

Underground cistern

Another rare sight is the old cistern where rainwater was collected for the city until the first decades of the last century. The cistern was dug into the ground under the central Piazza Vittorio in 1846, but was only rediscovered in 1991 during construction work on the square. The 15-metre-deep cistern could hold about 5,000 cubic metres of water and was part of an elaborate reservoir. The site is now open to visitors and offers an interesting underground voyage of discovery.

Matera Palombaro Lungo

You can find out the opening hours of the cistern ON ITS WEBSITE. (Online booking is only possible for groups).

Cave crypt with frescoes

I must point out another curiosity that’s not in Matera itself, but just a few kilometres from the city. The mediaeval cave church of the Crypt of Original Sin, incredible as it may seem, is famous for its magnificent frescoes. Surprisingly, very few people know about it and it was only rediscovered in 1963, although it’s so highly regarded by connoisseurs that it’s called the Sistine Chapel of cave painting. For a long time, shepherds kept their animals here and the locals called it the “Cave of a Hundred Saints” because of the many images of saints on the walls. After the crypt was discovered, the frescoes with biblical themes were restored. Unfortunately, we don’t know the artist, but many refer to him simply as the flower painter of Matera, as the lower part of many frescoes is decorated with red petals.

Matera Cripta del Peccato Originale

If you want to buy your tickets in advance, you can do so ON THE WEBSITE.

If you’d like to be taken into the beautiful crypt in a group with a guide, BOOK AN APPOINTMENT in advance and enjoy your visit.

Slow down your pace

As you can see, Matera is a very special place that you should visit at least once in your life. Embrace the experience and wander the streets as the treasures gradually reveal themselves. Take your time, slow your pace and enjoy the feeling of timelessness. Treat yourself to culinary delights: don’t miss Matera’s incomparably delicious bread. You can even try it as a local speciality (cialledda fredda): soaked in olive oil and fresh tomato sauce, served with onions, tomatoes and other delicacies.

Matera pane
Kars Alfrink (Flickr)
Matera Basilicata
Places to see in MATERA

Experiences in Matera

On three wheels

Sightseeing not on four wheels, not two, but three? Few people have the opportunity to visit a place as special as Matera with Piaggio's charming three-wheeled vehicle, the Ape. Click on the image to see the programme.

Where to stay in Matera



Rent a car

A pinch of Italian

Learn some Italian expressions that can be useful when travelling.​


Read more

You might also be interested in: