We tour the wonders of one of the world’s oldest cities
24 Feb 2022
Matera, the Italian city known for its Sassi rock dwellings, is a veritable open-air monument. A visit to Matera is a bit like taking a trip back in time. In the centre of town, you’ll immediately notice vestiges of a distant past that lives on in the houses, streets and caves.
Here are some suggestions for discovering every facet of this city, from its main piazza to the Murgia Park, as we immerse ourselves in this ancient, evocative part of Italy.
Start in the centre
There’s only one place to start our tour: Matera’s Sassi, two UNESCO-heritage districts divided into Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, both filled with characteristic “half-built” constructions, partly made of stone blocks, partly carved right into the rock. This truly unique scenario is dotted with museums, caves, rock churches and farm labourers’ houses. As well as being one of the city’s largest dug-out spaces, Piazza Vittorio Veneto is the town’s main square. Make sure you visit the cathedral dedicated to SS. Madonna della Bruna e Sant’Eustachio, located in the highest part of Matera, in the “Civita” district, and the Rock Church of Santa Maria di Idris, one of Matera’s best-known churches with its breathtaking Byzantine frescoes.
Immerse yourself in prehistory
A number of historians believe Matera to be the third oldest city in the world, inhabited continuously for around ten thousand years. The Murgia Materana and Rock Churches Park was set up in 1990 to protect, recover and enhance Matera’s prehistoric and historical archaeological remains. Marine fossils have been unearthed from the caves, and early findings in the Murgia Hills attest to the presence of hunters from the Palaeolithic age onwards: the “Grotta dei Pipistrelli” (and the Funerary Cave below it) offer evidence of human life dating back many millennia, from bracelets to percussion instruments, arrowheads and obsidian tools. The excavated items are on show at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale “Domenico Ridola” in Matera.
A view from above
The first Matera view you’ll fall in love with is right from the main square, Piazza Vittorio Veneto. From here, you can admire the Sassi from one of the city’s most stunning viewpoints. The Castello Tramontano, an unfinished sixteenth-century, Aragonese-style building, offers another viewpoint out over the Matera Sassi; the belvedere at Piazzetta Pascoli, one of the most crowded and a favourite with photographers, is named after Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli. If you’re up for a quick side trip, a quarter of an hour’s drive away is the Murgia Timone viewpoint, with excellent views over the old town’s architecture in all its glory and beauty.
Where to stay in Matera
The ideal place to stay in Matera is at UNAHOTELS MH Matera, a hotel immersed in greenery perfect for admiring the city and the Sassi. Nestling in a beautiful five-hectare garden, the hotel is just five minutes from downtown. The hotel’s restaurant will pamper you with typical Basilicata cuisine, which is known for its delicious, intense flavours and simple, authentic ingredients. In the summer, the Beach Bar serves light lunches, aperitifs and happy hours, while “Il Beach”, the hotel’s summer restaurant, offers astounding views in which every detail is poetry, and even the simplest meal is an emotion to experience.