Matera: Italy's 9,000 year OLD spectacle

March 15, 2016 / By Anthony J. Carro


Overlooking the Salerno Gulf (Nocelle)

Once called the “shame of Italy” the mysterious hilltop town of Matera is now a magnet for culture hungry travelers looking to experience the ways of ancient Italy. 

Matera is located in southern Italy’s Basilicata region and has a complex, sometimes shocking past. The cramped and disorganized pile of humble cave dwellings grotte dug into soft limestone rocks called Sassi may look inhospitable, but people have been settling here for a very long time. In fact, Matera is often cited as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

There’s plenty of evidence that Matera was already settled in the Bronze Age and recent scientific discoveries show evidence of a Saracen invasion from around 800 A.D., broken statues, columns and currency from the Byzantine occupation around 400 A.D., ancient Greek and Roman coins and bits of ceramics from three thousand years ago.

Known for their resourcefulness, the locals of Matera have lived in a medieval fashion, all the way up to the 1950s when the Italian Government took action and moved the locals out of the city due partly to poor living conditions and a lack of sanitary systems.

But all that’s changing now that Matera has entered Unesco’s World Heritage list (1993). One of the main reasons why they’ve been added to the list is due to their enormous rainwater collection system, another reason is the oldest inhabited parts of the city date from the Palaeolithic period, and are thought to be among the first human settlements on the entire Italian peninsula.

Today, travelers to Matera can stay in a converted cave Bed & Breakfast or relax in a candle lit cave turned wellness spa on the city heights. You can also visit the homes of former inhabitants, almost perfectly preserved in time.

Matera has been called 'the second Bethlehem’ and has often played the dramatic backdrop of movies such as Passion of The Christ, King David, the Ben Hur remake. Matera was also named the 2019 capital of culture, beating out cities such as Lecce, Siena and Ravenna.

Villa Antica Macina (Nocelle)
Looking west towards the Sorrento peninsula and Capri

A special thank you: Mele Coronato - Netherlands (Banner and Image 1) Marco Delucia - Milan Italy (Image 2), Gianni Paolicelli - Matera, Italy (Images 3 and 4).