Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Matera - Basilicata Region of Southern Italy

My friend Sandi had a fun idea called travelling Tuesdays. See her blog here,

I have been meaning to post about our travels last summer so here is the first in a series of posts on our adventures during the summer of 2010.

"Matera is one of the most interesting, unusual and memorable tourist destinations in Italy. In the remote southern region of Basilicata, still- little visited by foreign travellers, it is a town famous for its extensive cave dwelling districts, the sassi. Until the 1950s hundreds of families were still living crowded into cave-houses here. The squalor and malaria-ridden conditions became a national scandal and finally the cave residents were moved - by law - to modern buildings on the plateau above. By the 1980s the abandoned caves of Matera were no longer scandalous, but fascinating reminders of the past. A few rather more well-to-do residents moved back and renovated old cave houses. In 1993 the town was made a UNESCO World Heritage site, for being "the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem".

We started off with a very early departure from Florence to Pisa by train and then a plane from Pisa to Bari. We had reserved a car at the Bari airport.

From Bari it was a leisure drive to Matera through the countryside.

Once we got into the town it was a little tricky finding our B & B which was a renovated cave dwelling. After a couple of phone calls we were almost there.

You have to park your car down below the hill and walk up stone pathways. I was wondering where we would end up but when we got to our B& B I was amazed at how beautiful our surroundings were.

Here we are at the beautiful "Dodici lune" B & B. http://www.ledodicilune.it/ It is a wonderfully appointed "cave" dwelling.

During your stay you will have opportunities to visit a casa grotta which is a resconstruction of the cave dwellings that were inhabited by large families as recently as 60 years ago. This is a great contrast to the modern day "hotel caves" like this one.

Many thanks to Daniele and Aria who made all the arangements for our wonderful stay in Matera. They were terrific guides and so much fun to be with.

"Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the "Sassi di Matera" (meaning "stones of Matera"). The Sassi originate from a prehistoric (troglodyte) settlement, and are suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. The Sassi are houses dug into the calcareous rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia. Many of these "houses" are really only caverns, and the streets in some parts of the Sassi often are located on the rooftops of other houses. The ancient town grew in height on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream. The ravine is known locally as "la Gravina". In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city."*

Here a very friendly local woman explains the history of Matera and the changes she has seen.

"Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since these houses were, and in most areas still are, mostly unlivable. Current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and has promoted the re-generation of the Sassi with the aid of the European Union, the government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels."

" Matera is the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago."*

Curious visitors, like ourselves, can stay in caves, wander the lanes alongside the picturesque cave-filled cliffs, and learn the history of this fascinating place.

" Small lanes, alleys and stairways wind through the districts, some still closed off and abandoned. At first glance, the slopes might seem lined merely with small shabby stone buildings. But behind the simple facades - which sometimes extend outwards like traditional houses - the dwellings go back into the rock, cut out usually to form one large room, with a kind of ante-chamber at the back for animals. "

" These parts of Matera are strange, quiet and picturesque; the pale rock makes the scene seem faded, colourless and timeless. "

Refreshed and ready to go out for dinner.

The restaurant at our B & B looks so nice but we wanted to explore other places close by.

As dusk falls the lights of the town begin to turn on. Everything begins to twinkle like a minature town aglow.

Here the owner of this trattoria and his friend stand outside. We decided to try this family owned place. We dined outside.

What a cozy little table we had and what a nice way to end a full day of exploration.

Walking back to our hotel amidst the lights of Matera, one thinks of all the history in this far away land.

Our cave room was really wonderful.

After a good nights rest we are ready for more adventures on the road.

A bright and sunny August morning.

We were the first ones up and ready for breakfast.

Plenty of breakfast choices, coffees, teas and juices.

We are very happy campers, er make that "Cave Dwellers."

Our cute little "Punto" is packed with our luggage. Fortunately for the four of us, we travel light.

Leaving Matera for more adventures in Basilicata...see you on the next "travelling tuesday!"

*Please note all quoted material taken from this source: http://www.italyheaven.co.uk/basilicata/matera.h

If you get a chance try to visit one of the several cave museums for a fascinating look at the way life used to be for the cave dwellers. " Casa Grotta del Barisano is one. These are fascinating opportunities to see the typical layout of an inhabited cave, as they would have been until being deserted in the 1950s. The furnishings and design are all very standard, and it is both impressive to see how families adapted to these restrictive living conditions, and shocking to think how recently people lived like this. Chickens were kept under the bed, a horse in the corner and children slept where they could."


Virginia said...

As Sandi can tell you , I"d love to see Italy , although I love Paris so much.

fourkidsmom said...

thanks for visiting my blog. I have never wanted to go to anywhere in Europe EXCEPT Italy. Sounds wonderful.

Palma said...

Matera is an amazing place, isn't it? The evening shots are magical, and you and Mike look so happy with that stunning backdrop!

Marta said...

Thanks for posting. Your pictures are beautiful. They really make me want to visit this area - plus so different.

Justabeachkat said...

What a gorgeous place. One I hope to visit one day.

Actually I know of it because of our friend Michael Belk and his project that was filmed there. Go here to see - http://www.thejourneysproject.com/t-thestory.aspx It's amazing!


barb cabot said...

Kat, thank you so much for this link from the journeysproject. It truly is amazing. He picked the best location for this subject matter.

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