Matera is certainly one of the most interesting, unusual and memorable tourist destinations in Italy. This green pearl of natural and historical wonders has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993.
With its 10 thousand years of life, Matera is thought to be one of the world’s oldest towns and probably one of the longest continuously inhabited human settlements. The first findings on the Murgian plateau attest to the presence of hunters as early as the Paleolithic age.Later, perhaps 7000 years ago, men moved toward the east side of the Gravina gorge, occupying and digging natural caves in the tufa limestone to be protected from storms, wild animals and enemies. Numerous artifacts such as weapons, rudimentary stones and objects of common use have been found in the caves by archaeologists. The first urban settlement, with its basic houses and caves, called “Civita” was set on the west side of the Gravina, where the Sassi rose. This area was in fact more protected because of being located on an dramatic cliff overlooking the underlying river. The Civita’s heart dates back to the Magna Graecia time (5th century) when Matera, being on the route from the coast to the inner part of the region, became an obligatory travel stop and an important wheat depot. During the 8th and 11th centuries, monks who were fleeing the religious persecution (under the Byzantine Empire), transformed several caves into rupestrian churches adorned with frescos and columns. Santa Maria de Idris is certainly one of the most fascinating. The alternation of many populations over the centuries has left an intricate urban system, where the buildings overlap the natural caves. In the early twentieth-century the Sassi area was a by-word for poverty. Peasants used to live here, in cave houses, squeezed together with pigs, chickens and donkeys, with no water, no light or electricity.Later a redevelopment and requalification process of the area was undertaken. Today visitors are captured by this unique landscape with its picturesque cave-filled cliffs, the Sassi, and by the timeless atmosphere. It isn’t difficult to understand why Matera was chosen by Mel Gibson as the stunning location for the film “The Passion” or the set for Morgan Freeman’s blockbuster “Ben Hur”. The landscape with its picturesque cave-filled cliffs, the pale (faded) colorless rocks and the timeless atmosphere, remind you of the Holy Land, where both films were set. You can experience a unique sensation, like being within a crib, staying in one of the charming B&B right in the Sassi, feeling its dense history.