Puglia's incredible ancient cave city
Matera is a town in southern Italy which is truly unique. It lies in the side of a ravine created by a river that is now the stream Gravina. The ancient town, or the Sassi di Matera (literally the 'stones of Matera') is formed from an ancient network of subterranean slums, dating from Palaeolithic, troglodyte settlements; some of the earliest settlements in Italy. The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches now form an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it's only a short distance from Coreggia, so take the opportunity to visit while you can!
Already having been occupied thousands of years ago, the myriad of natural caves were deepened and expanded throughout Classical and medieval eras, forming more inhabitable spaces used by peasants. Perfectly adapted to their terrain, ascending the flanks of the ravine, these shelters were considered slums. It has only been relatively recently that the caves' potential and wonder have been recognised.
Most of the more elaborate stonework dates from the Renaissance period when many of the caves were given new facades and today carved stone stairways still connect the arches, attics and balconies of the streets. The way the stone structures are formed means a maze of narrow streets and alleyways weave throughout buildings whose foundations often form the roof of the dwelling below.
Rock hewn churches, created by Byzantine monks sit amongst the jigsaw of carved stone houses. Streets run along the tops of the houses below in an almost honey comb effect; cemeteries were built above the roofs of their churches and what you can see from the surface of this warren-like town is approximately only 30% of the whole Sassi structure! There are metal walkways to follow through an enormous 16th century cistern complex that lies hidden beneath the town's main plaza and more modern renovations have been made to create underground hotels as well as cave restaurants, cafés and clubs. It really is a remarkable place!
You won't really know where to start, with so many incredible buildings and quirky little streets to wander. But if the architecture is a real draw for you then there are several places you won't want to miss. The UNESCO site it protected for its many ecclesiastical buildings: the magnificent Cathedral of Matera is an important one, first built during the 13th century and with that prominent bell tower which is so easily recognisable from the distance. The Convent of Saint Augustine is a picturesque complex that consists of a monastery and a church. The church of Santa Maria de Idris is one of the rupestrian churches with a number of fabulous frescos to admire; it's built into the rock and views from the top are great.
Don't pass up the chance to visit Matera while you're staying in one of the Trulli properties. You won't regret it!
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