Matera is one of the most interesting, unusual and memorable tourist destinations in Italy. In the remote southern region of Basilicata (also called Lucania), still little-visited by foreign travelers, it is a town famous for its extensive cave-dwelling districts, the Sassi.
Curious visitors can stay in caves, wander the lanes alongside the picturesque cave-filled cliffs, and learn the history of this fascinating place.
The Sassi di Matera
The caves of Matera had been inhabited for centuries; some humble and some smarter residences, but by the early twentieth-century the area was a by-word for poverty. Until the 1950s hundreds of families were still living crowded into cave-houses. The squalor and malaria-ridden conditions became a national scandal. Finally the cave residents were forced by law to move to modern buildings on the plateau above.
By the 1980s, the abandoned caves of Matera were no longer scandalous, but fascinating reminders of the past. A few rather more well-to-do residents moved back and renovated old cave houses. In 1993 the town was made a UNESCO World Heritage site for being “the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem”. Ever since, Matera has become steadily more popular as an off-the-beaten-track tourist destination, and in 2018 Matera was selected by Lonely Planet as on of the top 10 cities to visit. More and more old cave-houses are being converted into comfortable modern dwellings, hotels, B&Bs and restaurants.