A visit to Matera is one like no other. Take the opportunity to discover this incredible city in Italy, with an adventure to the remote southern region of Basilicata. Renowned for its extensive cave-dwelling districts, it delivers magnificent views of rock caves and old stone buildings that rise to a pinnacle and twinkle with light on the city’s warm evenings. On our Walking in Puglia & Matera trip, we devote two days to this destination, which was named the ‘European Capital of Culture’ back in 2019. Below we share some of the fascinating things you can do while discovering Matera on foot.
Enjoy spectacular views from Matera’s canyon
As you wander through the streets of Matera, be prepared for a little workout. There are a plethora of steps, leading you up and down throughout the countless stone buildings that are etched into the cliff face.
While walking, take time to absorb the many spectacular views. The ancient cave dwellings and frescoed rock churches rise up and down the rolling hills, wrapped with quiet winding roads and interspersed with splashes of olive-green vines. As this intriguing honeycomb warren of caves dwindles, it merges with the stark Murgia plateau, creating a breathtakingly unique sight.
Visit the Crypt of Original Sin
Thousand-year-old beautiful wall paintings are the feature of The Crypt of Original Sin, found in a natural cave at Matera’s Murgia Plateau. Discovered in 1963, quite by accident, this impressive artwork is nicknamed ‘The Sistine Chapel of Rupestrian Art.’ Walking through the cave into the crypt, you will see depictions of biblical figures, including Adam and Eve, God the Creator, the archangels and the Virgin Mary.
Explore the intricate 7,000-year-old Sassi Caves
For those familiar with the area, Matera will conjure up images of the ancient Sassi caves. From Palaeolithic times all the way up until the 1950s, families called these caves home. Poverty-stricken and living in squalor, families would reside in their ‘homes’ with no electricity, running water, or sewage systems.
The caves remained this way until Carlo Levi launched his eye-opening book ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’, which shed light on the awful situations that families endured living in the caves. As more and more people read the book and saw the devastation for themselves, public outcry forced the government into action. The residents were re-homed in more modern, hygienic living conditions and their new cliff-top settlement was dubbed the ‘new town’.
As curiosity spread about the Sassi Caves, they attracted artists, journalists, and travellers from all around the world. By popular demand, many of the caves were slowly transformed into homes, local restaurants, artist exhibitions, museums, bookshops and unique cave hotels. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the Sassi District may be one of the few places in the world where you can stay overnight in a cave room that was inhabited 7,000 years ago.
Discover the city’s Hollywood history
As you stroll around Matera and explore the ancient sites, you will notice it has a real biblical feel to it. This has earned the city its nickname ‘The Second Bethlehem’. Seen also as an appropriate representation of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, Mel Gibson chose to shoot his film ‘The Passion of Christ’ here and Matera was likewise the starring location for Pasolini’s biblical classic, ‘The Gospel According to St. Matthew,’ filmed over 40 years ago. The famous city also features in the latest James Bond movie, “No Time to Die”.
Wander around the Park of Rupestrian Churches
Discover the intriguing history of The Park of Rupestrian Churches, located in the territory of Matera and Montescaglioso. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and measuring 8,000 hectares, the park contains more than 150 ancient cave churches, some hidden under dense vegetation on the banks of the ravine. The terrain is often uneven, making the walk a little challenging at times, but the beautiful Byzantine frescoes that adorn these caves and allude to its rich history make it more than worth the effort.
There’s nowhere else in the world quite like Matera. Its fascinating history and display of pre-historic caves and rock churches etched into its limestone canyons are bound to leave you speechless. Combined with a visit to the equally unusual, city of Alberobello, situated in the neighbouring Puglia region, you’re bound to make memories that will last a lifetime on our Walking in Puglia & Matera trip.