Matera, Basilicata

Matera, Basilicata

One thing I can definitely say after a day jam packed with stunning visuals and a head full of stories and facts, is that one day in Matera is definitely not enough! If you go (and you must), you should plan on three or four days to explore and take in all there is to see here.

As advised by several Italians before we arrived in Matera, we booked a half day private walking tour. Our guide was Cosimo Ronanone, a man whose family has lived here for generations and who grew up playing in the abandoned caves before the restoration began.

Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered one of the oldest cities in the world as well as the oldest where there has been continuity of life.

San Pierrot Barisano, the largest cave church of 150 in Matera
The other side of the valley, showing the caves from the Neolithic Age, some natural and some man made
Walking trail up to the top of the other side – where there are more cave churches that were inhabited by monks
On the top right is the rock church of Madonna dell’Idris

Cosimo told us all about the poverty in the caves and how people didn’t live there when the times were good – in those times they were used for storage of wine or animals. However, over the centuries, they have been inhabited by the very poor and runaway slaves from the various regimes. With no running water, electricity or sewers and because of the fact that caves by nature are damp and dark, there was a high death rate and tuberculosis was rampant. The families lived with their livestock, and the livestock and a small fireplace kept them warm.

At some point, the government felt that this area was a national disgrace, and over twenty years, build a “new” side of Matera and moved the residents to buildings in that area. For a long time afterwards, the caves were abandoned and suffered decline and destruction until the 1980s, when reconstruction and restoration began. There are still building and a large section that are being worked on, but the restored area, containing museums, churches, small B&B’s, restaurants, homes and shops is really beautiful. For this, Cosimo thanks the tourists who have discovered the area (a double edged sword of course) and infused it with the much needed funds to preserve this magical place.

We were lucky enough to see a wedding – well not the church part – but the outside part – oh the fashions! – oh the bride!

How fun is that!?!

Here is our guide with Don:

He is giving the flower to me instead of the beautiful young maiden at the water fountain

We met this young carver as we toured the old part of Matera. He is a friend of Cosimo’s and insisted that I put a magnet on the back of one of his carvings out of the rock. Of course I dropped the first magnet and made a hash out of the second one but he was very good natured about it. Here he is showing off a carving he has made of the caves.

Interestingly, the caves are behind and deep below the more recently added facades. They look like buildings on the outside, but can go down as many as five levels of cave inside.

By the time our tour was over, we were ready for a drink and headed to our little bar with the best view in the city for a much needed Aperol spritz (and a beer).

But the white wine really was the start of the show:

Tomorrow we are off to see the trulli houses of Alberobello before heading to our farm stay in Locorotondo. That’s if we can find our way out of the maze of medieval streets between us as the open road. We’ll see.

3 responses to “Matera, Basilicata”

  1. Wow that is so amazing and what a story.
    Definitely could see spending 3-4 days there.

    Nice you could be part of an Italian wedding 😁

    It’s nice to feel part of your amazing holiday. Only wish I could be there to take in the history and architecture.

    Happy travels looking forward to more stories and pictures. 🍷


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