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Visit Matera

“In the Sassi caves is concealed the capital of the peasants,
its heart hidden in their ancient civilization.  
Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awe-struck,
so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty.”


 

 This is how Carlo Levi described Matera in 1952, but the artists who became fascinated with the charming beauty of this city are truly numerous.  Giovanni Pascoli in 1884 saidDelle città in cui sono stato, Matera è quella che mi sorride di più, quella che vedo meglio ancora, attraverso un velo di poesia e malinconia”. (Of all the cities that I visited, Matera is the one that smiles at me the most, the one I still see best through a veil of poetry and melancholy.)

 

With the passing of the years, the city continues to provoke astonishment and to stand out for its scenery which is, according to many, spellbinding.  Matera, named UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, has been defined as the only one of its kind due to its contrasting configuration and scenery.

It’s the city of the Caverns, of the Entrenched Villages, of the peasant houses carved in the rock, of the frescoed Rocky Churches, of the grand Romanesque, Pugliese and Baroque Churches and of notable noble Palaces.  

It’s the city that geologically calls to mind ancient Jerusalem and Cappadocia.

It was the destination of many people and their masterpieces, and continues to be the destination of great actors and directors who find in Matera a place made for filming their movies. Mel Gibson said “In fact the first time I saw it I just went crazy because it was so perfect”.

These itineraries will help you discover the richness of Matera and make you realize just how beautiful it is:

 ITINERARIO I - Reservations

Rocky Church of the Holy Spirit (10th century BC): located in the heart of the city center, it was one of the 7 Benedictine settlements present in the city.  From the 1500s to the 1600s, the old rocky church was enlarged from the opposite side using tuff construction; the rest of the church has undergone, over the course of the centuries, various alterations in order to allow for more occupancy.  In 1880, the same followed in the middle fondaco (storehouse) and it became totally enclosed.  Today, following work that uncovered the catacombs, the structure has 3 naves, the one on the right being square with a cross-shaped vault on massive rock obtained from the mountain.  Today, it is possible to see some of the frescoes from the 12th Century that must have, at one time, fully embellished the church.

Piazza Vittorio Veneto: is the central square in the city, entirely surrounded by historical mansions from the 1600s and 1700s.  It is worth a stop at Belvedere Luigi Guerricchio with an incredible view of the Sassi overlooked by the Basilica Cathedral.

Archivio APT Basilicata - Photo by D. BasileBASILICA CATHEDRAL: from the 13th century BC with a spectacular view of the Sasso Barisano.  It rises from the highest point of the city, the Civitas hill.  The exterior is in romanesque-pugliese style, the interior is characterized by invaluable baroque art; the Nativity Scene in stone created by Altobello Persio and his son Giulio in 1534 is priceless.  The Cathedral is considered the synthesis of art and faith:  art, as the maximum expression of human capacity; faith, as the commitment to defy the centuries.



Walk in the Sasso Caveoso: its name comes from cavea and it is one of the two sections of the Rioni Sassi, completely carved out of the limestone cliff, where it is possible to admire reservoirs, ice caves, and small dwellings.  The populated archetype that had held up for centuries was proclaimed inadequate according to new hygienic requirements.  Therefore, as a result of the Gasperi Laws of 1921, the people of Matera abandoned the Sassi dwellings to occupy new housing built by world-famous city planners and architects:  Piccinato, Aymonino, Quaroni, De Carlo, and Fabbri. In 1993, saved from the risk of demolition, the Sassi were recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Property.  During your walk, you will be able to admire some of the sites used by Mel Gibson during the making of the film “The Passion of the Christ”.

During the course of your walk in the Sasso Caveoso you will be able to visit the following sites:

Archivio APT BasilicataCAVE HOUSE typically decorated with furniture and tools of the era to give an accurate idea of the life of the peasant in the Sassi houses, as described by Carlo Levi in the book Christ stopped at Eboli (1946): “They are caves dug out of the hard clay of the ravine…inside those black holes, with earthen walls, I saw the beds, the poor furnishings, the rag spreads.  On the floors were sprawled dogs, sheep, goats, pigs.  Each family had, in general, a single one of these caves for its entire residence and they all slept here together, men, women, children and animals.  Twenty thousand people lived in this manner”.



NATURAL CAVERN, a large natural cave in which there has been no human intrusion.  It is still possible to see the living rock; the sandstone that has accompanied man’s walk along these streets.

ROCKY CHURCH OF SAN PIETRO IN MONTERRONE, entirely carved out of the limestone cliff from the 9th Century BC, used later as a cellar for wood storage and as a quarry for construction materials.

ROCKY CHURCHES OF SANTA MARIA DE IDRIS AND SAN GIOVANNI IN MONTERRONE, two interconnected Rocky Churches whose principal characteristic is their suggestive position on the deep gorge of the rocky precipice.  Entirely carved out of limestone, the interior exhibits frescoes from the 12th Century BC.   


ITINERARY II - Reservations

PALAZZO LANFRANCHI: situated in Piazza Pascoli where it is possible to enjoy a splendid view of the Sasso Caveoso. Built in the 17th century and now seat of the Carlo Levi Foundation, inside you can admire some of his canvasses, among them the famous painting Lucania ’61 – a great work of art that describes elements of the life of the peasant woman in Lucania.  The same palace also houses the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata with works of contemporary artists and sacred art.



 

Archivio APT Basilicata - Photo by D. Basile

BASILICA CATHEDRAL: from the 13th century BC with a spectacular view of the Sasso Barisano.  It rises from the highest point of the city, the Civitas hill.  The exterior is in Romanesque-Pugliese style, the interior is characterized by invaluable baroque art; the Nativity Scene in stone created by Altobello Persio and his son Giulio in 1534 is priceless.  The Cathedral is considered the synthesis of art and faith:  art, as the maximum expression of human capacity; faith, as the commitment to defy the centuries.

 

PIAZZA DEL SEDILE: It is a 17th century mansion so-called because since 1540 it has been the seat of the city government (sedile).  On the façade you can see four statues representing justice, strength, temperance and prudence.   

Piazza Vittorio Veneto: is the central square in the city, entirely surrounded by historical mansions from the 1600s and 1700s.  It is worth a stop at Belvedere Luigi Guerricchio with an incredible view of the Sassi overlooked by the Basilica Cathedral.

 

 

CHURCH OF SAINT DOMENICO: built in the 13th century in Romanesque style, on the facade is a rose window surmounted by the statue of Saint Michael the Archangel.  The interior is made up of three naves with lateral altars where you can find 16th century canvasses by local artists. 

 

 

 

CHURCH OF SAN GIOVANNI BATTISTA: built in 1233, it was originally called Santa Maria la Nuova. This church embodies the most interesting display of Romanesque-Materano style.  The interior divided by 8 pillars has a rectangular structure with three naves.

 

 

 

ITINERARY III - Reservations

Archivio APT Basilicata - Photo by R. Montanari e S. SansonettiDOMENICO RIDOLA NATIONAL MUSEUM: Situated in the ancient Clarisse convent complex, it was established in 1911 following donations of archeological finds by Senator Domenico Ridola.  It is deemed one of the most interesting museums in Europe from the standpoint of its prehistoric finds from the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras and one of the most interesting in the world regarding the Magna Graecia.

 

 

CHURCH OF SANTA CHIARA: It was built in the 17th century according to the wishes of Bishop Del Ryos.   Together with the adjacent buildings, today it is the seat of the Domenico Ridola National Museum.  During the previous era it was first used as a hospital and later as the seat of the Clarisse convent.  The interior, with one nave, offers Baroque paintings and ornamentation. 

CHURCH OF SAINT FRANCESCO D’ASSISI: built in the first half of the 13th century on the old Rocky Church of Saints Peter and Paul.  The production of the baroque façade dates back to the mid-1700s.  The interior of the Church is of one nave with lateral chapels.  Behind the altar is contained a polyptych from the 1600s.    

 

 

 

 

Piazza Vittorio Veneto: is the central square in the city, entirely surrounded by historical mansions from the 1600s and 1700s.  It is worth a stop at Belvedere Luigi Guerricchio with an incredible view of the Sassi overlooked by the Basilica Cathedral.

 

 

Rocky Church of the Holy Spirit (10th century BC): located in the heart of the city center, it was one of the 7 Benedictine settlements present in the city.  From the 1500s to the 1600s, the old rocky church was enlarged from the opposite side using tuff construction; the rest of the church has undergone, over the course of the centuries, various alterations and mutilations in order to allow for more occupancy.  In 1880, the same followed in the middle fondaco (storehouse) and it became totally enclosed.  Today, following work that uncovered the catacombs, the structure has 3 naves, the one on the right being square with a cross-shaped vault on massive rock obtained from the mountain.  Today, it is possible to see some of the frescoes from the 12th Century that must have, at one time, fully embellished the church

WALK IN THE SASSO BARISANO: the origin of the name could be derived from its exposure toward the city of Bari or from the presence of a noble roman family named Varisius, from which comes Varisianus – Barisano. It extends to the northwest of the Civita.  Its structure appears to be much newer in respect to the Sasso Caveoso, only because it was largely reconstructed.  In fact, the renovations of the Sassi began in this section and it incorporates a large number of hotels, pubs, and restaurants.

 



 

CHURCH OF SAINT AUGUSTINE: was built at the end of the 1500s.  It is above a rocky crypt dedicated to San Guglielmo (12th century) and calls to mind a severe baroque style.

 

 

 

ITINERARY IV - Reservations

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MURGICO PLATEAU: This zone offers visitors various opportunities to get in touch with the atmosphere, nature and the origins of the city of Matera. This is a territory occupied by man since ancient times, with remains dating from the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras.  This territory came back to life with the hermetic monks of the Middle ages, where the phenomenon of the Rocky Churches in the Caves developed behind the Gravina (rocky precipice) or in totally isolated areas.  In this area you can admire many Neolithic villages filled with tombs and cisterns.  The flora of the Murgia Materano Regional Park consists of 923 species, which is around a sixth of the entire national flora and a third of the regional flora:  a considerable number for an area of approximately 8000 hectares (19,768 acres). The fauna is represented by the Grillaio Hawk with is characteristic of this area

MADONNA DELLE TRE PORTE (14th Century):  Sanctuary carved out of the rock.  With a rectangular plan, it broadens itself cross-wise.  Full of frescoes, there is a pulpit with three steps on the back wall.  

SANCTUARY OF THE PALOMBA:  its construction dates back to the 16th century.  A rose-window is above the door and between the two is a high relief sculpture depicting the Holy Family.  The nave ends in an arch embellished with frescoes of the Madonna Odegidria.


 

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