10 things to do and see in Matera

A complete and detailed guide about 10 things to do and see in Matera in 1, 2 or 3 days

10 things to do and see in Matera
10 things to do and see in Matera

Matera enchanted many artists such as Carlo Levi and Giovanni Pascoli. One of the oldest city in the world, where history, culture, nature, meet and mingle creating charming landscapes.  Carlo Levi used to say: “Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awe-struck, so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty“; while Giovanni Pascoli wrote : “Among the cities I’ve been, Matera is the one that smiles at me more, the one I can see even better, through a veil of poetry and melancholy“. Things didn’t change with the passing of the time: Matera, incredible city dug into the calcareous rock continues to leave visitors speechless.

Life in Matera has never stopped: it’s the inhabited city since it was built, the city in which, from the Paleolithic era to the present day, you can retrace the history of man who lived here, using local resources and integrating perfectly with it. Matera is a unique city, an extraordinary timeless place. It’s also the city of the famous Sassi, the first site in southern Italy declared a World Heritage Site. I’ts the city of the rupestrian churches, the natural areas with  different species of flora and fauna, rural traditions, landscapes of incomparable beauty. But Matera is also a city of hidden treasures, museums, festivals, concerts, multimedia paths. October 17, 2014, the city of the Sassi has been nominated European Capital of Culture for 2019: a major victory for a country often forgotten which can get rid forever of the sad definition of “national shame”.

If you are looking for a hotel in Matera, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 50 hotels with prices, pictures  and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com

Sassi of Matera – Ancient town

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The “Sassi” (literally: “stones”) are probably the first thing you think about when someone talk about Matera.

Sassi of Matera – Ancient town
Sassi of Matera – Ancient town

The ancient village dug into the calcareous rock, on the side of the Gravina Valley, in 1993 has been declared Unesco’s World Heritage. The Sassi with their particular twist of caved used as houses, alley, stone churches, terraces, gardens, tunnel, are a great example of an architectural complex perfectly matching with the natural environment.

This huge sculpture, preserved from the Palaeolithic era to nowadays, shows the way of life in the caves and close to them, from medieval era, modern houses have been built.

For this, the Sassi represents a unique landscape of its kind, a destination for fascinated travelers and inspired moviemakers. However in the years ‘50s-‘60s the Stones were considered “national shame” because of bad sanitary conditions and overcrowding in houses-caves that were abandoned and left in ruin. Luckily after about thirty years, some interventions began for the recovery of these forgotten jewels that at sunset have a  magic color offering breathtaking shows. The Sassi are divided into two districts: the Sasso Barisano, the largest district, whose houses are now shops, restaurants and hotels, and the Sasso Caveoso, considered the oldest neighborhood that best preserves the appearance of the cave town . Before starting to  explore the ancient  districts it could  be useful to first stop at Casa Noha, first FAI’s site  in Basilicata. The ancient house, belonged to the noble family Noha, recently became the center of tourist information and documentation such as the movie “Invisible Sassi. Extraordinary journey in the history of Matera”. It is  projected on the stone walls of the house, telling the story of the city, from different perspectives: architecture and art history, archeology and history of cinema. Thanks to technological path available through the APP Matera Invisible,  free download (www.materainvisibile.it), you can discover the historic heart of the city through five routes associated with many elements: water, stone, light,  time and spirit.

Where: Recinto Cavone, 9 (close to the Cathedral)
When – Hours: Wednesday – Sunday (Monday and Tuesday if holidays) from april to October 9 am – 6 pm. From November to March 10 am – 4.30 pm
Tickets: € 4 ; disable people can visit for free

Matera’s Cathedral

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On the top of the hill, Civitas hill,  there’s the Cathedral which offers an amazing view of the “Sasso Barisano”. This church construction is dated back at the XIII century and rose above the remains of a benedectine monastery: Sant’Eustachio.

Matera’s Cathedral
Matera’s Cathedral

Since 1627 the cathedral was dedicated to the Madonna della Bruna and Sant’Eustachio, protectors of the city. The façade of the church has a  Romanesque – Apulian style and a beautiful decorated portal : you can see the  statue of the Madonna della Bruna,  an impressive rose window with 16 rays (symbol of the wheel of life) and  archangel Michael killing the dragon with  two male figures on the sides and one at the bottom that is used as atlas.

On the side façade of the cathedral there are other two minor gates: a “street door” adorned with a bas-relief  of Abraham, and a “Lion Gate” so called for the presence of statues of two lions to protect the faith. You can admire also the bell tower ,52 m high, with 4 floors with mullioned windows . The interior, restored during Baroque period, has a Latin cross with three naves separated by columns with figurative medieval capitals. In addition to the famous stone crib made in 1534 by Altobello Persio, the Basilica contains numerous treasures including: a Byzantine fresco of the Madonna della Bruna and Child by the “Maestro della Bruna”, (XIII century), the “Last Judgement”, fragments of a cycle of frescoes, the beautiful wooden choir sculpted in 1453 by John Wee, and the great altarpiece on the high altar “Virgin and Child with Saints” made by Fabrizio Santafede (1580).

The natural areas of Matera

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Nature reserves, parks, wildlife sanctuaries that characterize the whole territory of Basilicata region is a characteristic mixture between nature and culture. They are not only rare species of flora and fauna, but also  relics of great historical and cultural value.

Rupestrian churches in Matera
Rupestrian churches in Matera

The Park of the Murgia, the Regional Reserve San Giuliano and the Colle Timmari are the natural areas that you can visit in Matera. In the upland area, you can find the remains of ancient Neolithic villages. The area of San Giuliano Lake, however, is known for a strong presence of birds and from sighting huts where you can observe the 140 bird species that live here. Moreover  the Timmari hill is a small residential village over the lake of San Giuliano and it’s an important archaeological site for some objects of both prehistorical time  and IV century

Rupestrian churches in Matera

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Churches date back mostly to the Middle Ages, when monasticism made some room in the Christian communities of the time and Benedictine and Byzantine monks began to settle in the caves of the Gravina transforming them into prayers centers. Those mystical places, dug into the rock ,are one of the characteristics of the entire territory of Matera: crypts, chapels, basilicas, sanctuaries and monasteries, along the walls of the Gravina and Murgia upland.

The Crypt of the Original Sin of Matera
The Crypt of the Original Sin of Matera

The rupestrian churches with their architectural virtuosity and their decorations are exceptional works of art, expression of the historical – cultural territory.  You can find greek-orthodox churches close to latin churches that testify the cultural and architectural development level reached by the rupestrian community. There are almost  150 churches in the Matera area for the protection of which it has been established the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Among the many rupestrian churches you can visit : the church of San Pietro Barisano  located in the same  Sasso, with the façade in Romanesque – Baroque style and the inside is completely dug into the tuff where you can find just (unfortunately) seven altars , a series of frescoes and a crypt with the ossuary; the church of Saint Lucia alle Malve containing important frescoes including the one of the “Madonna del Latte” or “Galattotrofousa”; Santa Maria de Idris church dug into the side of Monterrone, and St. John’s crypt that forms, through an internal passage, a beautiful rupestrian complex. Four  rupestrian churches grouped around a central courtyard are the Convicinio of Saint Anthony (XII – XIII c.) used in the XVII century as a cellar. It’s dedicated to Santa Barbara the church with some oriental inspiration, rich in valuable wall paintings including a depiction of Santa Barbara who has  in the head a rich diadem and in the right hand the tower, the symbol of his martyrdom.

The Crypt of the Original Sin of Matera

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A few kilometers from Matera, along the wall of the Gravina di Picciano you can find the Crypt of the Original Sin. It’s a frescoed  church-cave (re) brought to light in 1963, and it’s called the Sistine Chapel of rupestrian wall painting. The extraordinary painting complex (sec. VIII – IX) that decorates the walls of the crypt is undoubtedly one of the most important examples of early medieval painting in the Mediterranean.

The cave – house of Matera
The cave – house of Matera

Used for a long time by shepherds as a shelter for animals, the natural cavity was known to the locals as the “Cave of the Hundred Saints”, due to the presence of many saints painted on the walls. On the back wall are shown some biblical scenes from the Genesis (God the Father Creator, the Light, the Darkness, the creation of Adam, Eve’s birth, temptation and original sin), while in the three apses there are  Apostles, Archangels and the Virgin.

Where: the meeting place in order to make the visit is at the gas station “Grifo Gas” on the SS7 towards Potenza, at km 564, about 10 km from Matera.
When: Tuesday to Sunday by reservation.
Contact Coop. Artezeta to n. 320 5350910 (also SMS) or book online www.criptadelpeccatooriginale.it/prenotazioni.html.
Visiting hours
April to September 9:30 – 11:00 am – 12:30 to 3:30 pm  – 5:00 to 6:30 pm
October to March 9:30 – 11:00 am – 12:30 to 3:30 pm
Tickets: € 8.00; free for  children under 10 accompanied by parents.

The cave – house of Matera

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Carlo Levi in 1952 wrote: “ In the Sassi cave is hidden the capital of farmers, the hidden heart of their ancient civilization” . In order to understand that farmer world, it could be useful to know the life conditions into the Sassi before people were forced to leave them.

The Palombaro Lungo in Matera
The Palombaro Lungo in Matera

The cave-house of Vico solitario, in Sasso Caveoso,  it’s the best chance you have to understand how was the life in these houses dug into the rock.  The house, inhabited until 1957 by a family of 11 people (plus animals),  consists of a single room, partly excavated and partly built, with antique furniture and tools. There is the fireplace with the kitchen, the bed with corn leaves stuffed mattress, small table with a single plate at the center from which all used to eat, the chamber pot used for bodily needs, the frame for spinning, the area with the food for the mule, the cavity in which they collected manure used to warm up, the tank where the rainwater was conveyed through a channel system.

Where: Vico Solitario
When – Hours: every day from 9,30 am to the evening and all holidays 9.30 am to the evening
Tickets: € 2,00

The Palombaro Lungo in Matera

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The Palombaro Lungo is the large cistern dug under the central Piazza Vittorio used until the early decades of the last century to collect drinking water. Its name derives from “plumbarius”, the Latin word for plumbing works.

Musma Museum of Matera
Musma Museum of Matera

Built in 1846, thanksto Bishop Di Macco, as a water reserve for the inhabitants of Sasso Caveoso, the majestic cistern was excavated in 1991 on the occasion of the piazza works. The tank, 15 meters deep containing about 5,000 cubic meters of water,  was part of an ingenious water collection system made up of a complex network of channels:  caves, tunnels, to catch rainwater and waters of aquifer close to Castle Tramontano in Monte. A fascinating path of about 17 meters deep and  you can admire one of the tanks dug into the biggest rock in the world, admirable work of hydraulic engineering, huge  and silent as a “water cathedral”.

Where: Piazza Vittorio Veneto
How to get there: by feet in the city center
When – Hours:
Summer: every day from 9 am to 1 pm  and from 4 to 8 pm ;
Winter: Saturdays, Sundays, holidays and days before holidays from 9 am to 1 pm  and from 4 to 8 pm;
Other days open by reservation to the number 339 3638332 (Association GTA Basilicata).
Tickets: guided tour € 3.00 (sum donated to charity to some institutions), free for children under 18 years

Musma Museum of Matera

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the Musma, Museum of Contemporary Sculpture of Matera is dedicated to sculpture, and welcomes visitors with a rich collection of sculptures, pottery, jewelry, medals, art books, prints and drawings donated by artists, collectors, private galleries from Zétema Foundation. Many important names: Manzu, Cascella, Milani, Hare, Gitlin, tomato, Ortega, just to name a few.

The natural areas of Matera
The natural areas of Matera

The museum is located in the Palazzo Pomeraci (XVII century), also known for its large size as “Palace of the one hundred rooms.” The permanent collection is hosted in two different settings: in the halls of the main floor the exhibits are about the history of sculpture since 1800 while in the downstairs rooms, the main theme of the museum is the combination of environment “dug ” by  man and sculpture. Temporary exhibitions are staged in the “Sale of the hunt”, splendid frescoed rooms with bucolic scenes and hunting scenes. The Museum also houses the library Vanni Scheiwiller, a rich collection of over 5000 books – monographs, catalogs and art books – donated by the widow of editor, great art lover.

Where: via San Giacomo
When – Hours:
October to March from Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 am  to 2:00 pm
April to September from Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 am  to 2:00 pm / 4:00 to 8:00 pm
Never Monday (excluding holidays), December 25, January 1, July 2.
Tickets: € 5.00; Reduced (children 7-25 years) € 3.50; free (children under 6, disable people)

Things to eat in Matera

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The gastronomy in Matera is linked to the farming and pastoral tradition: simple and natural ingredients combined in a cuisine of genuine flavors. Legumes, meats, vegetables, homemade pasta (orecchiette) topped with tomato sauce, broccoli, cardoncelli mushrooms, cheese (pecorino and caciocavallo), extra virgin olive oil and of course bread of Matera IGP ( ideal for the typical tomato bruschetta, with cream and wild onions peppers bran) are the basis of Matera dishes.

Things to eat in Matera
Things to eat in Matera

Among the specialties: Pignata, made from sheep meat, vegetables, herbs, cooked in a clay pot in the wood oven; the Ciallèdd made with stale bread, potatoes, onions, herbs, eggs and turnips that have taken the place of the flowers (the asfadeli) of the original recipe; the Crapiata based on legumes (spelled, chickpeas, lentils, grass peas, peas, beans), wheat and potatoes. All with red decided (Aglianico and primitive) and fragrant white (greek, Muscat).

Where to sleep in Matera

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You can understand  Matera hospitality by the many possibilities of accommodation for tourists in all seasons. Hotels, from one to five stars, bed and breakfasts, cottages and apartments allow a choice for every portfolio needs.

Where to sleep in Matera
Where to sleep in Matera

Some structures are located in the heart of the Sassi, others are located in the most modern part of the city. For sure, the first option is more attractive than the second one  because it  will allow you to enjoy all the charm of the ancient Matera, but it is also the most expensive one. So you can choose a cheaper accommodation and then go around to discover all the beauties of the territory. The city of the caves, the city of villages and peasant houses, the city that reminds the  ancient  is just waiting for you to show  you  all its  beauty.

If you are looking for a hotel in Matera, we suggest you to choose among those offered by Booking.com. There are about 2000 hotels with prices, pictures  and comments of guests already stayed there. Go to Booking.com