A cross at Matera, Basilicata
by Jesse Andrews

Street in Matera, Basilicata
by Jesse Andrews

View of Matera, Basilicata
by Jesse Andrews

     Most Photos on VisitsItaly are by Jesse Andrews. Please Contact VisitsItaly.Com for reproduction of any kind at: team@italyvacationspecialists.com

Welcome to Matera
From Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population: 59,144 (2004)
Official website:
Wikipedia: Matera

The city of Matera lies 45 kilometres from the Ionian coast, on the Murge plateau, amidst tufa quarries and deep ravines, which were created over thousands of years by the eroding action of rivers on he calcareous terrain.

Matera is universally known for the unique Sassi area, where Mel Gibson shot the film The Passion of Christ in 2004.

Because of Matera’s rich and turbulent history, in 1993 the city was claimed by UNESCO as one of the 395 places in the world that represent the “heritage of man” to be preserved and passed on to future generations.

The city is made up of several nuclei, which mark Matera’s rich cultural history, which dates to the Palaeolithic period.  The first human settlements were located on the spur of Matera’s deep gorge, called Civitas (or city, an ensemble of citizens) in an easily defended position, in what is now the eastern most part of the town.

The Greeks had trading relations with Matera long before the Romans, but trade increased with the Romans because the city was on the  the Appian Way..the main highway to Rome.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, being a short distance from the sea, the town came under Byzantine influence.  In the early Middle Ages there was a multiplication of hermitages, chapels and lauras, monastic organizations that are widespread in the East, especially among Basilian monks, who lived as hermits alone or in small groups in local caves, meeting only to pray.

In political terms, sovereignty over Matera was long disputed by successive empires: the Byzantines, the  Lombards, the Saracens and the Normans.  The Normans  made it a Regia town, part of the sovereign’s personal possessions.  As a regia city, Matera enjoyed numerous crown privileges.  This explains the prosperity of the city during the Norman and Swabian periods, during which the castle, the wall and its towers, were built.  The city was so populous that many people were forced outside the walls, building houses or even living in the numerous caves in the area.

These new settlement areas, which came to be known as the Sassi, occupied two natural amphitheatres, Sasso Caveoso to the south, and Sasso Barisano to the north. They are separated by the Civita spur sloping down towards the gorge on the edge of the city.

The economic prosperity, which continued during Angevin rule, led to the construction of a new cathedral in the Civita and determined the growth of the Sassi and their organization in an increasingly complex and ingenious political and social structure.

The city has many scenic spots that visitors will have little trouble finding.  However, the most impressive is the view across the gorge, which gives the onlooker a sense of the city's evolution through history.  There are no buses to the look-out, so to get there, however, you must have a car.  If you don't have your own car, you can hire a taxi in the city.


Alt: 401 meters
40°40′N 16°36′E


Altamura - 20 km;
Potenza - 102 km;
Maratea - 183 km;
Bari - 77 km;
Naples - 255 km;
Amalfi Coast (Sorrento) - 254 km;
Rome - 494 km


Tourist Office
Via de Viti de Marco 9 (just off Via Roma)
Tel: 0835-331-983


Caffe del Cavaliere - Piazza San Pietro Barisano - drinks, coffee and snacks at night.

Il Castello -
in the Angevin Castle above Via Lucana - piazza

Il Terrazzino - Vico San Giuseppe 7 - with a view over the Sassi

La Panca - Piazza Sedile - boisterous, good pizza

Trattoria Lucana - Via Lucana 48 - light meals

Tufa sculpture, Basilicata
by Jesse Andrews

TUFO SCULPTURES - Some great pieces can be found in Matera, but don't be fooled by store prices. Artists are located throughout the Sassi so keep a keen eye out to avoid paying 100 Euros when you can be 10.
Tell us about your trip to Matera.  What were your favorite places to visit, stay, and dine.  Talk Italy Forums