From Jesse's Journeys in Italy
Population: 59,144 (2004)
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.