Matera is a cultural city in the southern region of Basilicata in Italy. It is best known as the city of the Sassi –ancient rock-cut caves that are thought to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. Due to Matera’s cultural heritage, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was announced as the European Capital of Culture for 2019.
The charm of Matera lies in its strength as a city that, over the years, has been reborn. It has emerged from degradation and is now considered one of South Italy’s most treasured attractions.
With everything going for this small city, there are many reasons why you should visit Matera on your next tailor-made Italy holiday. Here are 10 reasons to be crazy about the city of the Sassi.
It’s a top place to visit in 2018 according to the New York Times
Among 52 places to visit in 2018, US newspaper the New York Times put Basilicata in third place, narrowly beaten to first and second place by New Orleans and Colombia. According to journalist Danielle Pergamen, Basilicata combines the traditions of the past with modernity, giving a diverse experience of South Italian culture.
Lonely Planet recommended
Even Lonely Planet, the famous travel guide, is not immune to the charms of Matera, as they announced the city of the Sassi as one of its top 10 cities to visit in 2018. In recommending this cultural Italian city, Lonely Planet cited the city’s labyrinth of caves, churches and cave monasteries that date back 9000 years as the top attractions.
Matera on social media
Thought-provoking photos of Matera’s whitewashed landscape have appeared all over popular social media platforms, enticing those eager to travel to the world’s cultural sites. A holiday to Matera is your chance to discover the city you’ve no doubt seen on Instagram.
One of the oldest cities in Italy
The origins of Matera date back thousands of years to the Paleolithic era and the Sassi are considered to be among the first human settlements in Italy. The city is consequently one of the most fascinating places to visit if you have an interest in archaeology.
Matera’s modern transformation
In the 1945 book Christ Stopped at Eboli, Carlo Levi highlighted Matera’s degradation and the suffering of the city inhabitants. At that time, South Italy was very poor and many people living in Matera tolerated unsanitary conditions in the absence of a proper sewage system or running water.
Levi’s book threw Matera into the limelight, attracting the attention of influential politicians. As a result, in the 1960s and 1970s around half of the Sassi were restored and Matera is now a wonderful day trip in South Italy if you want to discover Italy’s cultural past.
UNESCO World Heritage Site and European Capital of Culture 2019
In recognition of Matera’s cultural heritage, the Sassi were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. Further affirming this historic city as a must-visit in 2018 and 2019, it was announced as the European Capital of Culture for 2019.
Speaking of their decision to choose Matera for this prestigious accolade, the jury noted that they were impressed by the Matera’s innovation and artistic approach to increasing tourism to the city in a sustainable way.
It’s an open film set
With its unique landscape and thought-provoking vistas, Matera has caught the attention of several film directors over the years and has starred in iconic movies, including Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. For this movie, the Last Supper scene was filmed at the rock church of San Nicola dei Greci and the procession of the cross was filmed on the steep alleys of Sasso Caveoso.
Pasolini also chose it
In 1964, iconic director Pier Paolo Pasolini selected Matera as the backdrop to his masterpiece: The Gospel According to St Matthew. For this revered film, Pasolini chose non-professional actors and extras chosen from the local Matera population, and it is considered a transgressive and antidogmatic work. At the time, however, it drew allegations of contempt of religion!
Stay in the Sassi
There are few places in Italy where you can really get in touch with the local culture, but Matera is different. For an authentic experience, you can stay in a hotel carved into the Matera rocks, allowing you to experience what life in Matera is really like for the locals.
You will eat very well
Matera dishes deserve the attention of palates all over the world. The cuisine here relies on the quality of the ingredients, and dishes are often slowly and simply prepared. Traditional dishes that you must try include crapiata (a hearty dish based on legumes) and pettole (a fried patty flavoured with tomatoes, basil and Pecorino cheese).
Visit Matera on a Tailor-made Italy Holiday
With so many reasons to visit Matera in 2018 or 2019, you may be interested in one of our tailor-made Italy holidays. We specialise in personalised travel to Italy from Australia and, as a part of a handcrafted Italy holiday created just for you, we can arrange all aspects of your travel, including authentic Sassi accommodation in Matera or a day trip there from one of the nearby South Italy holiday resorts.
To find out more, call us on 61 2 9056 7018 or click here to send an online enquiry.