Matera: this unique town has a tragic and poor past but is now one of Basilicata’s most interesting destinations with a truly singular character.

materaMatera lies in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, on the border to Puglia. Though foreign visitors often overlook the region, towns such as this offer a truly unique attraction within the area. People have inhabited this area since Neolithic times, and for a while this town was even the capital of Basilicata. Unfortunately the majority of its history is dominated by poverty, disease and slum-like living conditions.

Below the town you see today you will find many entrances to cave-like habitations. These date back many thousands of centuries. The holes in the rock are merely the entrance to a wider network of cave habitations and tunnels. This once constituted the town’s community. Such close confines and lack of air soon became a breeding ground for malaria and other illnesses. Once the nation discovered these conditions, a scandal emerged. Following this, the residents all moved into the ‘modern’ town above.

Today, these hellish living conditions are long gone, and many Materani have converted the spaces into B&Bs and other holiday residences of varying price brackets. This is a great way to spend your night in Matera, and is now of course completely safe and even very atmospheric! Alternatively, during the day you can explore these cave residences. You can do this alone or with a guide. If going alone, we still recommend you find a guide book or inform yourself about their unique and engrossing history.

Interestingly, it is the cinema that dominates Matera’s recent history. Its rocky and cavelike sassi make it a favorite amongst directors at the helm of biblical stories. For example, Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew and the Mel Gibson epic The Passion of Christ both used its landscapes as a substitute for Jerusalem.

If you have the time, the underground swimming pools of the area are also really worth a visit. They are truly one-of-a-kind, and are equipped with modern facilities and atmospheric lighting.

Matera has a train station that connects directly with bari, which is only 40 miles away. When visiting we advise to book tickets to the churches and other attractions in advance, as some close for long periods of time and some are only open at weekends.

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