Matera and the Sassi di Matera

Donning our sun hats, we started walking to Modugno train station. It was still early, and Modugno was quiet, there was only a couple of people walking around, going about their daily business. The train station was empty. We purchased our tickets for Matera. I am still in awe about how cheap travelling by train was in Italy. Only 5 euros for a journey that lasted around an hour. In the UK, I pay much more than that for a ticket to Cardiff which is about a 30 minute train ride. Whilst waiting for the train in the shade of a few trees (the temperature was already unbearable), I was watching a bird feeding its young in the middle of the train tracks. The young bird was able to hop up and down the little fence it was perched on, but was not able to fly yet. Every now and again its parent flew over to it, the little young bird mouth gaping wide open to accept a tasty morsel of food. We carried on watching this familiar exchange until the train arrived. It stated Gravina because we had to change, but we weren’t sure where we had to change. The guy on the train said we needed to change at Altamura. Altamura is another beautiful place to visit by the way. We visited Altamura last year.

Il viaggio

The journey on il treno itself was pleasant. It took us through the countryside so I got to see a bit of la campagna. I had always envisioned the South of Italy as this dry, arid region, brown everywhere, but there was actually a lot of greenery. First off we passed a lot of olive groves, then this turned into vast open areas filled with fattorie or farms. The train itself was quite pleasant, it was cool. and there was plenty of seats available. The change at Altamura was simple, the train was waiting already on the next platform, so it was just a case of crossing over the platform and getting straight onto it. There are several stations in Matera, and we got off at Matera Sud which was the closest station to the Sassi di Matera. Our guide for the day (a friend of Alberto’s) had instructed us to keep following the road down. We passed through areas which was clearly residential until we reached the bottom of the hill, and we arrived at the most stunning view ever! Looking over across the Sassi di Matera. Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought my camera to capture the true magnitude and beauty of this view, so a couple of snaps on my phone had to suffice.

The Sassi di Matera

First of, I feel like I should provide a little background information about Matera. Matera is located in the region of Basilicata, so was actually outside of Puglia. The city of Matera is the capital of the province of Matera, and the original settlement lied between two canyons, which had been carved out by the Gravina river (now only a stream). The earlier settlement included a complex of cave dwellings that were carved directly into the canyon, leading to Matera’s nickname of la città sotterranea or the underground city.

Matera is thought to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, and Matera was believed to be first settled in the Palaeolithic region. However, the town of Matera was first founded by Lucius Caecilius Metellus in 251 BC and was named Matheola. It has been conquered by many different groups such as the Greeks, the Lombards, and the Byzantines amongst others.

Matera however, these days is famed for the Sassi di Matera, which originated as a prehistoric Troglodyte settlement. The Sassi were considered an area of extreme poverty and were known to be extremely dangerous so the government cleared them out in 1952 and they lay abandoned until the 1980’s. Now the town has a blooming tourist industry, with the Sassi being one of the biggest tourist attractions. The site is now a UNESCO site and as well as this, the city of Matera was named the European Capital of Culture.