Sassi di Matera (World Heritage)

The cave systems are an impressive monument to the history of settlements since the Neolithic Age. The cave dwellings were carved into the tuff and expanded into residential complexes over the centuries. The result is a conglomerate of alleys, squares, caves, rock-hewn churches and cellars with sophisticated well and irrigation systems. Many caves were still inhabited until the middle of the 20th century.

Sassi di Matera: facts

Official title: Sassi di Matera cave dwellings
Cultural monument: Sassi of Matera, called “the mirror of the starry sky” by medieval chroniclers, among others. with the rock church of San Pietro Barisano, Torre Metellana, church of San Antonio Abate, the monastery complex Madonna della Virtù (10th century) and San Nicola dei Greci, crypt of the Madonna degli Angioli, Piazzale del Belvedere, church of San Pietro Caveoso, rock-hewn churches of Santa Maria de Idris and San Giovanni as well as rock-hewn churches Cappuccino Vecchio and Cappuccino Nuovo
Continent: Europe
Country: Italy, Basilicata
Location: Matera
Appointment: 1993
Meaning: an extraordinary example of a cave settlement in the Mediterranean area

Sassi di Matera: history

11th century San Pietro Barisano
1591 San Agostino Monastery in the Sasso Barisano
1595 Description by the chronicler Eustacchio Verricelli
1656 San Pietro Caveoso plant on previous building
1663-1806 Matera, provincial capital
1667 Changes from Madonna della Virtù
1747 Restoration and reconstruction of the San Agostino Monastery
1952 Eviction of the Sassi
1991 Inauguration of the monument “A day in Matera”

Pride and shame in tufa

A curious old age likes to open his museum-packed dwelling, which was originally just a spacious tuff stone cave and has been given a porch with a facade and entrance in the course of time, for a fee. The motif of the random collection is unrestrained pride in history and “cultural heritage”. The man thinks his city is the second oldest in the world; some of his fellow citizens even let themselves be carried away to speak of the oldest in the world.

The pride is not unbroken. Because in the middle of the 20th century the word “national disgrace” made the rounds. At that time, up to 20,000 people lived in miserable conditions in the seemingly archaic parts of the city, hardly better than at the time of their early ancestors, who dug caves out of the soft stone in the Paleolithic and settled on the steep bank above the Gravina River. “I saw children sitting on the doorstep in the dirt under the scorching sun with half-closed eyes under puffy red lids; the flies settled on their eyes, but they didn’t move at all. ”This is not a“ misery report ”from the African Sahel zone, but from Basilicata in southern Italy. A doctor had come to the city of Matera to visit her brother, who had been exiled by the fascists, nearby.

The two parts of the city, called “Sassi” – “rocks” for short, Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso, are shaped like “inverted cones, like funnels”. They look like “we imagined Dante’s hell at school,” writes Levi. Whoever stands in the center of Matera on the edge of the Sassi, feels a strange fascination, is involuntarily tempted to climb down stairs and stony paths into the rock city. The people who were relocated to new quarters in the 1950s have not only left the unhygienic, stinking misery behind, but also a labyrinthine security and social way of life, self-organized living communities beyond student life plans.

In the initially confusing tangle of criss-cross caves, which since the Middle Ages have been expanded into many handsome, contemporary houses and expanded to include free-standing buildings, a second glance reveals the orderly understanding of a kind of urban planning. Many dwellings are grouped around courtyards open on one side, which several families used as dining and living rooms. It is said that the neighboring communities promoted in this way are often more closely bonded than relatives with family members outside.

Water has always been a precious commodity in the rock city. Rain was caught and branched out into underground cisterns, but it was not enough to supply up to 20,000 people with drinking water. There is only enough water for a little green, sometimes here for a wine pergola, sometimes there for a few oleander bushes or planted flower boxes. Still, the Sassi don’t seem dreary at all. The yellowish tuff of the caves as well as the building blocks, balcony parapets and ornaments create a warm atmosphere – on a bright southern day under the high sky, but also in the weak light of twilight and moonlit night.

Today the many churches appear closest to nature. Its pillars, peeled from the stone, resemble sturdy trees. Its Eastern European frescoes indicate that Orthodox Christians have lived here throughout history, Serbs as well as Croatians and Albanians who once wanted to escape the Ottoman Empire.

The rock funnels of the Sassi are reminiscent of a scene of biblical history. According to computergees, the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini also felt this way and settled his film about the Gospel of Matthew here. In 2004 Mel Gibson also shot scenes from his Jesus film “The Passion of Christ” in the cave city. But Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso have long been more than just a film set. Some people have returned to their »cave district« and moved into their restored apartments, opened pubs or hotels. And there is still – to the renewed pride of the Materans – tinkering, building and repairing in every nook and cranny.

Sassi di Matera