Prepping For Matera’s Caves

As the sun shines on Matera, you need sunglasses to dull the brightness. What doesn’t seem real, a town not on the same page of any other Italian town, Matera nestles away in one of Italy’s most forgotten regions. A city so bright is hard to imagine in any other light. Unlike any other vision in Italy, Matera’s construction is what makes it an attraction. Its story is what makes it a fascinating piece in Italy’s puzzle. Set up in the southern region of Basilicata, in between Calabria and Puglia, Matera must be prepared for to enjoy its fame, shame, scandal and triumph completely. The backstory is just the beginning when it comes to Matera.

What To Know

In order to understand Matera and its importance to the south of Italy, you have to consider why the city looks the way it does. In the remote Basilicata region of Italy, Matera finds a home, loudly in cave form. Since Paleolithic times, the town has been inhabited, making it one of the oldest settlements in the world. The landscape of Matera allotted for carved out settlements, called sassi. Early residents were able to live in such a fashion that they could gain a harmony between man and the natural environment just by being at home.

What Was the Scandal

During the 1940s and 1950s, one of Italy’s great scandals took place in Matera. Residents began living in the sassi again as poverty was far too overwhelming and rampant. Disease thrived and the infant mortality rate sat at 50%. The government was forced to step in, removing people from their caves and into government housing. The problem with Matera is that it is comment on Italy’s poor south, an area frequently and throughout history, neglected by the Italian State. After drawing shame, Matera would be placed back in to the limelight by UNESCO when the city was deemed a world heritage site in 1993. Since that time, travelers in small numbers have been arriving to explore the sassi of Matera. Everyone loves a good scandal.

What To Read

Before taking off for Matera, you will understand the city’s past history and conditions if you pick up Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli. Mussolini exiled Levi to Matera for his anti-fascist views. In the process, he observed a horrific south. Levi concluded that Matera was a place so devoid of hope, Christ would never have visited.  Malaria infested and high infant mortality rates, his work aimed to tell just how impoverished Italy’s south was.

What To Watch

When Mel Gibson needed a Jerusalem for his controversial film The Passion of the Christ, he turned to Matera to set the stage. The movie was filmed throughout the town’s sassi. Gibson saw the Biblical backdrop in Matera, much has many had seen before him. Pier Paolo Pasolini also selected Matera for his work The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Upon arriving in Matera after seeing why filmmakers believed in Matera’s setting, you will understand why the town is just so biblical.

What to See

While in Matera, the main attraction is obviously the sassi, in other words the caves. The ancient city is composed of stone houses carved out of the cliff. To see what the sassi were like in the 1950s, Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario presents a model of the problems plaguing the south, specifically in Matera. Travelers should also wander through the two main districts of Matera, Sasso Barisano and Sasso Cavesoso. As the city is the attraction, get lost in the maze-like streets that truly are a maze.

Written by: Suzy Guese

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