If you enjoy travels that delve into the ancient archaeological roots of a destination, Matera, Italy, is for you. Located in the Basilicata region, Matera may be the world’s third-longest continuously inhabited human settlement. It’s also a place where you’re going to spend a lot of time underground.
The countless natural caves of Matera were exposed as the Gravina River cut a gorge through the landscape, which researchers believe attracted human settlers around 7,000 years ago. Over time, more elaborate structures were built on top of those caves. Visitors can still see the cave dwellings, or sassi, today - as well as sleep in one, eat in one, drink in one, and view modern art in one.
1. Overnight in a Cave Hotel
From adorable inns to B&Bs, Matera accommodations may at first seem like a traditional place to spend the night, but you’ll quickly find that the cave atmosphere makes for a truly magical experience. Have breakfast on your terrace as you overlook the sassi, or stay right in the heart of the cave dwellings.
Bonus: Cave rooms keep you cool even in the sweltering summer heat.
2. Taking a Private Walking Tour
Delve deep into this UNESCO-listed city and 2019 European Capital of Culture on a private walking tour through the sassi. Learn how the town was carved, visit a cave-house and an ancient rupestrian church, and take in the view of Murgia Materana Park.
3. Seeking Out a Scenic View
Of course, with a setting like this, it’s not difficult to find a great viewpoint on Matera. However, to have a little more space to yourself, consider these favorites: the Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli, which looks down into the sassi and offers views of the cathedral’s bell tower; Piazza San Pietro Caveoso, which looks down into the ravine; and the streets above the rock Church of San Pietro Barisano.
4. Visiting a Cave Church (or Three)
See as many chiese rupestre (cave churches) as you can, each carved out of soft tufa limestone and many boasting ancient frescoes. Start at the most famous, Santa Maria di Idris, built into a massive rock right at the edge of the ravine (you’ll have seen it from various viewpoints throughout the city). Two small cave chapels are adorned with 12th-century frescoes. Nearby, check out the Santa Lucia alle Malve, with its interesting interior artwork, and, in the quieter Sasso Barisano neighborhood, the 12th-century San Pietro Barisano.
5. Gaining Some Perspective
Consider doing this before anything else so that you can most appreciate the incredible ancient history and geology of Matera. Casa Noha is in a historic building and shows a half-hour Italian film about regional history (there’s an audioguide for English and other languages). You’ll gain important context about the city and the sassi. The casa is open every day except Wednesday.
Ready to get to know this spectacularly unique southern Italian city? Let’s chat!