Italy has many beautiful and impressive cities, but Matera is different. The city is special in every respect: it’s history to touch on every corner, the scenery casts a spell on you and every stone seems to tell its own story. No wonder, the city has been inhabited since ancient times and, last but not least, the landscape in which it is embedded is what makes it so attractive.
On the edge of a deep ravine that divides Matera into two parts lies this in rock cutted city with its cave houses, churches and facades carved into the rock, stairs and paths. It is no wonder that Matera was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and was also elected European Capital of Culture in 2019. Nevertheless, the place is not classically touristy. The narrow streets are neither flooded with tourists nor lined with countless souvenir shops. Matera presents itself differently: unusual, authentic and exudes its very own, personable and positive charm. The city has character.
What to see in Matera?
There is a lot to do in this historic city, if history, culture, nature or gourmet – everything can be found here. Here some things that you shouldn’t miss:
Stroll through the narrow streets of the Sassi
Let yourself drift and be guided by curiosity, look behind corners and into hidden nooks and let yourself explore freely. Matera is a city to lose yourself and yet not to be lost, because it is much too small for that. Those who need some orientation can follow the signs for the “itinerario turistico”.
Learn about the history of the city
At Casa Noha you can learn about the exciting history of the city from ancient times till now. It is a multimedia presentation called “I Sassi Invisibile”.
Visit a “casa grotta”
The “case grotte” are typical cave houses and some of them have been restored and expanded like a kind of museum. Here you can put yourself in the shoes of the past, because people lived in caves like this until the 1960s.
Explore the other side of the gorge
The most beautiful view of the city can be catched from the “Belvedere della Murgia” or the rock church “Madonna delle Vergini” on the opposite side of the gorge. There are also some hiking trails and rocks to climb and discover here. Here you can still find hidden caves everywhere. In the national park there are also countless – some ancient – rock churches, which are also worth a visit.
Watch the sunset
The sunset gives Matera a completely different, incredibly beautiful touch. The best view of the setting sun and the Sassi is from the forecourt of the cathedral.
Matera at night
The city is gorgeously lit at night and is worth another look even here. In addition, there is a lot of life in the city and you can take a last look at the city over a delicious dinner or aperitif.
Explore Matera with kids
Actually, we are more the nature bonded persons and usually quickly bored of city trips, but this city was equally fascinating for all of us. Behind every stone there is a story and the many caves invite you to invent stories and think back to earlier times. On the opposite side of the gorge there are rocks to climb, caves to discover and to be fascinated by the nature and biodiversity in this barren landscape. You can also go into the depths of the gorge, which looks like an oasis compared to the rest of the landscape and there is no lack of hiking trails.
Short history of Materas
The first settlements in the region appeared as early as 8,000 BC. The land was fertile and the tuff rock was easy to work with. Over the years, the caves were cut deeper and deeper into the rock and facades were built in front of the caves from the building material obtained. Over the years the nested cave city, which is also called Sassi (Italian for stones), came into being. The city aroused no interest for a long time, until in the 1940s the well-known living conditions and poverty of the residents triggered an outcry through Italy. Until the 1950s, people lived here without electricity or water in narrow caves with their cattle. Due to the catastrophic hygienic conditions, diseases spread here like wildfire. The city was chosen as the eyesore of Italy and the people were all evacuated and relocated to modern social housing that had been rammed out of the ground. The Sassi fell into disrepair until they were rediscovered and partly restored in the 1980s. In 1993 the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2019 Matera was European Capital of Culture and today shines in new splendor. Many of the caves have been stylishly converted into hotels, exhibition spaces or event halls and are now home to a rich cultural scene.
Good to know
Like in most cities in Italy, it gets extremely hot here in summer. Due to the barren nature, the area offers hardly any shade, so you should consider this when planning your exploration tours.
The city leads over countless stairs and narrow, bumpy alleys. It is therefore not suitable for strollers. If you want to explore the city with small children, you should definitely have a baby carrier with you.
Parking lots are rather rare and sometimes located in zones that tourists are not allowed to enter without being theoretically punished. If you arrive with your own vehicle, you should also think about this when looking for accommodation.