MATERA PART I: A hauntingly-beautiful town in Italy

Matera Travel Blog

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Sasso (Sassi) Caveoso

Have you ever been haunted night and day by a place?  So much so that you decided to include it in your must-see places before you die?  Hahaha!  Guess what?  The Sassi in Matera haunted me!  Like never been before.  Like an old stark dream that keeps coming back.  Or should I say Matera’s photograph is one I endlessly looked at and longed for that day when I could visit and see the town right before my eyes!  Years later, guess where I saw Matera the next time?  It was in the movie; “The Passion of Christ!”  The unearthly, ancient beauty enhanced by the cinematic photography under Mel Gibson’s film lenses intensified my longings to see Matera!  Right in my love seat, after watching that movie, I made a bow to "confront" these dreams just once and for all.

Sasso Caveoso -- early morning walk...
  I need to visit this place not before I die, however, but before I could no longer climb the bazillions of stairs of this town.  Because I know, Matera is just the capital city of staircases!  Those who are not fond of stairs, well, they might not like this strange but awesome town in the south; in the Basilicata region of Italy. 

I must say that Matera is hauntingly beautiful, a captivating tapestry of beauty and contradiction.  Matera is home to those cave or stone dwellings called the “Sassi.”  The homes or residences are outcrops on “Sassi,” and the word “sassi” literally means rocks.  There are two Sassi neighborhoods in Matera – Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano.  The stone houses piled one on top of the other, have this dirty, dingy yet at the same time, captivating look!  These jumbled dwellings have this confusing-mysterious feel under one roof of a house, could be the floor of a church.

The stone dwellings in Sasso Caveoso.
  Step onto one of the narrow lanes between houses (if we can call them houses) unaware, but you’re in fact, stepping on or standing on the roof of a house below, and all the while you thought the surface is just a simple pathway.  These dwellings from the outside do look like a resemblance of sugar cubes – not the fresh ones though, but the cubes that were left over time and got moldy!  Oh, and when viewed from afar?  The stone houses also look like a vast cemetery!  Although the hewn rock houses are commonly called cave houses, they do not look like caves.  The interior of these homes, however, does have this cave-like feeling.  I know, because our accommodation was one of those rock dwellings.  (I will write more about our stay in the review.
eerie and hauntingly
)

To be honest, the starkness of Matera’s Sassi neighborhoods are quite shocking to behold!  However, the real beauty and appeal of this little town located in the instep of Italy’s boot is in its old, complicated and jarred history!  Did you know that aside from Petra, Jordan, Matera is the oldest continuously-inhabited settlement in history?  Wow, how cool is that ha?  I’ve been to Petra!  That means I’ve been to the oldest and second to the oldest settlement of human kind!  He he he.  Anyhow, you've learned what “Palaeolithic period” is in middle school, right?  The Palaeolithic period is the oldest time in human history.  It’s kind of like the time when the last Ice Age was just melting down.

The Sasso Barisano
  Yep, this is the very time people first settled in Matera – around 15,000 BC!  (Those interested, may come back to this blog for reviews of archeological museums.)  Unlike other Palaeolithic periods where residents abandoned their communities or quarters, but the Materans never left their little corner.  So, Materans' ancestors stayed around and dug (literally) instead.  Using metal tools, they dug underground caverns, cisterns, tombs, and dwellings in the landscape’s soft volcanic stone called tufa.  Those dwellings and those people remained throughout the later waves of rulers and empires, from Greeks to Roman to Byzantines.  Life was beautiful in Matera.  An urban city was vibrant with drainage systems and cisterns, orchards and hanging gardens, gorgeous cathedrals and comfy homes.
The Sasso Barisano
  Their stone dwellings with a constant cave-like temperature of 60 F caused by the tufa, formed a healthy and well-protected city.  Until… 

What happens when urban developments and modernization came alongside?  Social crisis followed also.  This small thriving farming and the agrarian economy then overthrown by larger enterprises.  Sure, great trends occurred but so is the population growth.  Buildings started to appear here and there.  Sites of vegetables and flower gardens now replaced by more partially-hewn partially-build establishments.  There was a huge lack of housing too as the town's population grew in numbers.  The poor workers and their families left without a choice but crawl in those old cisterns, which became their cave houses.

The view of Sasso Caveoso from Madonna de Idris Church
  People lived in one-room stone caves without heat or plumbing or toilets often with donkeys or other animals sharing the same space!  Later, I will write a review about a museum that shows what living condition was like back then.) 

With this desperate living condition, diseases and illnesses such as Malaria broke out in Matera’s entire town.  While small children being killed in Auschwitz in gas chambers during the 1940s, in Matera children were dying of hunger and uncured sicknesses.  Matera became a disgust and embarrassment to the country.  And it was this condition for many decades until sometime in the 1950s, the government of Italy issued a law, forcing Matera’s dwellers out of their old caves and quarters.

Sasso Caveoso
  I imagined not an easy position for the cave-owners, but the Italian government relocated them into new, modern housing and left for good, leaving Matera behind into a ghost city.  In fact, Matera became one of the biggest abandoned towns in the world!  The stone dwellings were left decaying.  Beautiful frescoed churches faded by molds, bell chimes silenced. 

Many centuries have passed, and the city resurfaced…But only as location shootings or backdrops for Hollywood movies and European films.  It was at this the time when Matera rediscovered its self once again.  Apparently, the government relocation project failed for many reasons.  Many of the Materans decided to go back to their old homes and beloved town.

Sasso Barisano another sassi neighborhood in Matera. I took the following photos standing in front of the Doumo (cathedral.)
  They made efforts to rebuild not only their cave dwellings but their lives as well.  Many have followed the footsteps of those who have gone back first.  Today, Matera seems incredibly romantic and mesmerizing!  When you watch the two Sassi from the rugged mountain tops across the town, especially, in the late afternoon or early morning, you'll notice that severe beauty.  And it surely will haunt every witness!  The entire city is a testament to Materans' resilience, endurance and ingenious to life without waste. ~ 

cotton_foam says:
Lester: Awww...how did I miss this comment of yours? Yes, Matera is indeed hauntingly-beautiful! I am so happy I finally made it to one of my dream destinations!

Sarah: I am glad my perspectives of the town has reinforced your thoughts of visiting! The history of Matera does fascinate me not to mention the charm this off-the-beaten-path destination has! Matera will always be special to me! ;-)
Posted on: Oct 16, 2017
Toonsarah says:
Fascinating - I have always thought Matera would be interesting to visit but your descriptions really reinforce that idea!
Posted on: Oct 15, 2017
wanderlust_rxist0324 says:
super hauntingly beautiful nga! looks like Italy has so much of these beauties!
Posted on: Oct 04, 2017
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itravel1 says:
ill read more soon!
Posted on: Sep 19, 2017
sylviandavid says:
Lovely write up .... some of it gave me the creeps that people live on top of other houses and in such barren caves
Posted on: Aug 23, 2017
Paulovic says:
No doubt I'll make it there. Italy is quite an expensive country. ;)
For many countries far away the trips are cheaper than going to another European country. Maybe the flight is more expensive, but the expenses in many countries are cheaper. So over all that makes it more affordable. ;)
But as I said, I will make it there for sure!
Posted on: Aug 22, 2017
Sasso (Sassi) Caveoso
Sasso (Sassi) Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso -- early morning wal…
Sasso Caveoso -- early morning wa…
The stone dwellings in Sasso Caveo…
The stone dwellings in Sasso Cave…
eerie and hauntingly
eerie and hauntingly
The Sasso Barisano
The Sasso Barisano
The Sasso Barisano
The Sasso Barisano
The view of Sasso Caveoso from Mad…
The view of Sasso Caveoso from Ma…
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Barisano another sassi neigh…
Sasso Barisano another sassi neig…
Sasso Caveoso from the Madonna de …
Sasso Caveoso from the Madonna de…
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Come and see Matera!  :))
"Come and see Matera!" :))
This is off my bucket list now!  Y…
This is off my bucket list now! …
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso from the Madonna de …
Sasso Caveoso from the Madonna de…
plaza in front of San Pietro Church
plaza in front of San Pietro Church
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
traversing hundreds and hundreds o…
traversing hundreds and hundreds …
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
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^.^
^.^
^.^
the viewing point from Madonna de …
the viewing point from Madonna de…
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
The spiky tower is the towns Doum…
The spiky tower is the town's Dou…
Sasso Caveoso -- sunrise
Sasso Caveoso -- sunrise
Sasso Caveoso -- sunrise
Sasso Caveoso -- sunrise
Madonna de Idris and San Giovanni …
Madonna de Idris and San Giovanni…
Sasso Caveoso (gazing straight tow…
Sasso Caveoso (gazing straight to…
sunset
sunset
During a restoration, while replac…
During a restoration, while repla…
sunset
sunset
sunset
sunset
Sasso Barisano sunrise
Sasso Barisano sunrise
Sasso Barisano sunrise
Sasso Barisano sunrise
Sasso Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso
the Sassi becomes like a giant Nat…
the Sassi becomes like a giant Na…
The Sasso Caveoso by night
The Sasso Caveoso by night
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fresh yummy bread
The bakeshop is easy to find. It is along the street called Via Bruno, the same road to the rupestrian church Madonna de Idris. I have visited this … read entire review
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visit for its relics, paintings, frescoes and murals
Regarded as one of the major religious points in Matera both for the size of the parish and the strength of its effects, is the San Pietro Caveoso. T… read entire review
Matera Sights & Attractions review
an ancient house narrates Matera's stark history
We have seen an oppressed casa for the poor Sassi dwellers -- the Casa Grotta in Sasso Caveoso. With our students, we also visited a home of a noble … read entire review
Matera Sights & Attractions review
those who like ancient pottery, will be happy
The people of Matera claims their town have begun since the Paleolithic age. They have proofs found in archeological locations such as the caves loca… read entire review
Matera
photo by: cotton_foam