Located in the region of Basilicata in southern Italy, Matera is the capital of the province with the same name. It is situated near the Gravina River in a small valley and is directly bordered by Apulia to the north and east, Campania to the west and Calabria to the south.
Matera is well-known for its ancient cave dwellings, and is sometimes known as “the underground city” because of this. These dwellings are from the Paleolithic period, and some scholars have suggested that if these dwellings were continually inhabited, then they would be some of the oldest settlements in the world! In the 15th century it was even part of the House of Aragon, a royal Spanish monarchy.
Despite its generally smaller size, there is much to do in Matera. One of the most visited sites in Matera is “The Sassi,” or Sassi de Matera. This is essentially an ancient district within Matera that is the home of the famous ancient dwellings. Monasteries and churches are abundant and well-preserved in the park of rupestrian churches of Matera. Step inside and you’ll be transported into the past as you witness some of the oldest habitations on the planet. And you can’t picture Matera without seeing the Matera Cathedral and its campanile, which rises high above the hill and overlooks the entire town. The cathedral was completed around A.D. 1270 during the Holy Roman Empire. The park is also home to several other important rock churches, including San Pietro Caveoso and San Peitro Barisano. They feature frescos, reliefs and ancient adornments. Take a short trek from Sassi by foot to the other side of the Gravina and you’ll end up on Murgia Timone, where you’ll be able to take in spectacular panoramic views of the entire town. You can even enjoy the views at night, as Matera looks like a nativity scene from this vantage point once the sun sets and the lights are on!
Matera is truly a hidden gem. With its incredible history and undeniable charm, it is a must-see if traveling to southern Italy. Matera is only about 35 miles from the coast of the Ionian Sea, so a quick trip southeast will get you access to over sixty miles of Italian coast. The local cuisine, rooted deeply as far back as Roman times, is rustic and delicious. Don’t forget to try Matera’s own special bread, a staple that has an ancient tradition. Travel in Italy and visit Matera today, and see history right before your very own eyes!