Matera: the city of stones


If you would like to veer off the beaten path in southern Italy, head down to the ancient city of Matera. Located in the region of Basilicata, this city was built into the hills and ravines made of soft tufa stone. The local people carved their homes right into the “sassi” or stones, where they lived in cave-like homes without running water or electricity until the 1950’s. Today many hotels and restaurants in the historic part of town are still housed in these cavernous dwellings.

Sassi Matera

Houses carved into the “sassi”

You can roam around this rocky city, winding through the streets – each with it’s own spectacular view. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the location for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It is easy to see why this city was chosen for the shoot, since walking along the streets instantly transports you back two millennia ago. Between then and now various Romanesque and Baroque details were added, which can be seen in the various churches located throughout the town. There is plenty to do in Matera, simply roaming the streets and drinking in the sassi is the best entertainment of all.

Sassi di Matera landscape

Sassi di Matera landscape

You can, however, start with the Church of San Pietro in Caveoso. From there head to the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, where you can have a brief tour of a model cave-home that the townspeople used to live in about a half century ago. It is peasant dwelling that shows what life was like living among the sassi. In this same area there are many churches built into these caves and lots of beautiful corners to discover. For example hike a short ways up to the Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve. This 9th century church gets its name from the malve or “mallow” plant that grows around the ruins where it is located. Moving away from the sassi you can check out an example of Gothic and Baroque architecture by visiting the Church of St John the Baptist and the Church of Purgatory, respectively.

Matera Food

Here is a taste of what you can eat in Matera

Between the sassi and the sightseeing you must try the local fare. Try Panecotto for lunch and, Le Botteghe and Il Casino del Diavolo for dinner.

Where to Eat

Panecotto A casual stop for breakfast, lunch, a quick snack or an aperitivo. Check out lots of the local specialities, including salami, cheese and the famous Aglianico del Vulture.

Le Botteghe Try the roasted meats at this toasty restaurant, including the delicious crispy lamb. If you prefer pasta, go for the fusilli mollico e crusco: crispy bread crumbs and dried red peppers on fusilli pasta – a local favorite.

Il Casino del Diavolo If you are feeling adventurous, follow the locals’ recommendation and make your way to this restaurant outside the city for their traditional cooking. Try one of their specialties with rape and cime di rame (turnips and turnip tops), along with a glass of the region’s most famous wine Aglianico del Vulture.

Finally go to Bar Tripoli for gelato and Forno di Paoluccio for their focaccia.

Where to Stay

Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort Located in Matera, Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort is located near Domenico Ridola National Archaeological Museum and Sassi. This 4-star hotel is convenient to San Giovanni Battista Church.

Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita This 4-star hotel is cut into the volcanic tufa rock of the Matera hillside and centrally located. It is steps from Cathedral of Matera and minutes from Sassi.

Palazzo Gattini Luxury Hotel With a stay in this 5-star hotel you’ll be steps from Cathedral of Matera and Sassi. Palazzo Gattini Luxury Hotel is also convenient to Tramontano Castle. 

Budget a relaxing two and a half or three days in Matera. It will give you just enough time to discover all that the sassi have to offer.

To discover even more about Basilicata, read this special on our website or contact one of our travel consultants

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