The City of Rocks
Tours stopping in Matera
Getting around Matera is like living in a forgotten past. When you visit this evocative city in Basilicata but just 6 km (about 4 miles) from the border with Puglia, the feeling is to enter a crib. For this Matera is also called “the second Bethlehem”, and it was the setting of films like Mel Gibson’s The Passion and The Matthew’s Gospel according to Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Until the ’50 the population lived in caves dug in the mountain and people were forced to abandon those houses to settle in modern neighborhoods. No one would have thought that those caves, the “stones”, would become the symbol of a city that is reborn:in fact in 1993 UNESCO included the “Sassi” of Matera in the world heritage list, as “an example of a thousand-year life system to be preserved and handed down to posterity”. More precisely, the recognition made to the city is that of being “a model of life in balance with the environment, with which it integrates without distorting it, while exploiting its resources”.
The rock that surrounds Matera and that the master craftsmen of this land have learned to work in ancient times is called ‘calcarenite’ or ‘tuff’, as local people say. The material, friable and adaptable, is offered in large quantities by the mountain that dominates the city, so the people of Matera seemed normal to go up there and dig into that rock to build a house. The material that was extracted was worked to become the facade of the house.
The first house was joined by others, and others, until it became a network of dwellings and tunnels and lanes that pass one on the other, one inside the other, and are transformed into that magic called Sassi: a gigantic sculpture, a miracle of urbanism recognized as World Heritage of Humanity. From that moment on, intense restoration and recovery works have been carried out. Today a visit to the Sassi represents a real dive into the past of this ancient people.
Matera, however, is not just Sassi. The city contains in fact different areas related to different eras: the oldest is in the Civita district, which due to its morphological characteristics can be considered a natural fortress, with the Romanesque Cathedral, built between 1268 and 1270 on the acropolis, which presents a interior rich in works of art, including a Byzantine Madonna of the thirteenth century called “della Bruna”.
The medieval-Renaissance part is instead located along the “Piano”, at the edges of the Sassi. Finally there is the new city, with very elegant buildings made by the most famous Italian architects.
There are many mother churches dating back to the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a large group in the Baroque style of which St. John, St. Dominic and the Cathedral are the oldest.
Matera represents, in some way, the symbol of rural civilization that manages to keep its traditions alive. The highest expression of rock art developed in the territory of Matera is in the many churches excavated in the tufa, very often frescoed, scattered on the murgic plateau or incorporated into the urban fabric of the Sassi of Matera.