Matera is a town that in recent times had one of the most incredible economic, social and cultural changes.
In 1949 Alcide De Gasperi and Palmiro Togliatti, two of the founding fathers of today’s Republic, define Matera, after a visit to the cave area of the town, as “shame of Italy”, for poor hygienic conditions , economic and social in which people lived in that time.
Previously, in 1945, Carlo Levi, in his book “Christ Stopped at Eboli”, spoke of “caves” dug in a gully, and “blacks holes” where families were living in absolute poverty, in total promiscuity with animals. They were the so called “Sassi of Matera” (literaly, “Stones of Matera”).
These two events are probably the beginning of the rebirth, a true watershed that brought Matera, in just over 70 years, to be an elegant town, always very crowded with tourists, promoted recently as European Capital of Culture for 2019. And the “Sassi”, no longer inhabited by citizens of Matera, become since 1993 a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More recently Matera has also been elevated to international prominence because “Sassi” were been the set of the movie “The Passion” by Mel Gibson, in which the narrow streets of the town are the backdrop to the last 24 hours of the earthly life of Jesus in Jerusalem. But Matera had already been in the past movie, for example, the famous “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” in 1964 by Pier Paolo Pasolini or “Once upon a time” by Francesco Rosi in 1967 with Sophia Loren.
According to the most reliable theories, Matera, whose first settlements date back to the Neolithic Age, i.e. to more than 10,000 years ago, is among the top three most ancient cities in the world, contending that title with other cities like Jericho and Aleppo.
It’s not very difficult to visit the “Sassi”. The rock town is divided into three main districts, Caveoso, the Barisano and Civita, although during the visit is not so easy to tell them apart. Once you enter the ravine from one of the many accesses, simply be guided by lanes, the alleys and the steps made of tuff rock that cover the entire area. Of course, you can always try to book a guided tour.
When you visit the Sassi you have the feeling of a world in which time seems to have stood still, almost a parallel dimension than the rest of the universe. And it’s possible, during the visit, join one of the many caves formerly used as dwellings. And one immediately realizes that through these doors can be covered a journey through time. In fact, you come into contact with an agricultural past world of poverty but also of simplicity and hard work.
The rooms are small, furnished with a few pieces of furniture, a table, a dresser, a chest, a cradle. And it is amazing to think that in these environments, in itself cramped, found its way even animals like sheep, chickens or cattle, fundamental to ensure food for adults and children. Being in these homes, which so aroused in his scandal-time, one can almost see again scenes of everyday life of the past, where large families, perhaps with many elderly and children in tow, would gather around the hearth for warmth of winter. A way of life now almost unknown in today but reminiscent of that of many populations around the world.
HOW TO GET
The nearest airport is Bari-Palese, connected with a local railway with narrow gauge rails or with a shuttle bus service to book in advance. Click here for information.
It’s possibile to get To Matera by car. From Rome, highway A3, Sicignano exit, then SS E847 up to Ferrandina Scalo and, thereafter, SS7 Appia-up to Matera (about 450 km). From director North, highway A14, exit Canosa and then local roads to Matera (900 km from Milan).