Matera is located in the Basilicata region of Italy. Matera has gained international recognition and is a famous tourist place because of its Sassi, the ancient homes that were carved out of solid rock. These ancient dwellings are still a part of the city and used as living spaces by people.
The Sassi are a UNESCO world heritage site and have been described as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy. Due to its resemblance to the old sites in Jerusalem, Matera has also been of particular interest to Hollywood directors. Untill the 1980's the city had been quite poor but of late due to the rising tourism it has been prospering.
Getting to Matera
Matera can be reached easily by train as well as bus. It is very well connected to Bari from where every two hours trains depart to Matera. In this region most trains are managed by FAL and train passes are generally not accepted. Except for Sundays, trains run at regular intervals. Matera can also be reached by bus from Bari and other smaller towns in the province. Visitors can also easily drive down to Matera.
Matera is a town and a province in the region of Basilicata.
Moving Around Matera
The main attraction in Matera are the Sassi which can be explored on foot only. However, to reach the Sassi there are several options. In town you can take the "Linea Sassi", a bus route with departures every half an hour from various parts of the city. The tickets are fairly inexpensive and finding bus stops is not difficult either. The town of Matera can be visited by car: parking is usually not a big a problem in most parts of the city, but several visitors prefer to explore most parts of the city on foot.
Attractions in Matera
The Sassi are the most important attraction in Matera. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has gained international recognition and has been mentioned in many important travel guides and travel shows. The Sassi existed in the city since pre-historic times and many believe that these were the first settlement in all of Italy. The Sassi are houses that have been dug in the rock tufts and they are more like caves. In many places the streets are running on top of the houses and are particularly unqiue.
The Sassi are built on top of each other and at one point, after the modern city had grown and developed, the government tried to relocate the population from the sassi to the modern city. However, people still love living here and when in Matera, a visit to this unique settlement is a must.
Duomo of Matera
The main cathedral of Matera is an important religious place in the city and is dedicated to Santa Maria Della Bruna. The cathedral was built in the 13th century in a Romanesque Apulian style of architecture which is unique to this part of Italy. There is a 52 meter high bell tower in the cathedral and a rose window on the façade, divided into sixteen columns. The decoration and art work is mainly from the 14th century with a Baroque theme, however there is a beautiful 18th Century fresco here too from the Byzantine era.
Cave Churches in the Sassi
There are several churches in the sassi in Matera which are particularly interesting. These churches are believed to be the earliest existing religious places in Italy and have been here for centuries. Some of them are fairly simple, a single cavern with one altar, whereas others are complex connecting caves with large underground chambers.
The Tramontano castle was built in the 16th Century and has three large towers. Probably the original design had twelve different towers but it was never finished. While restoring on the castle the workers came across Roman cisterns and several other important findings that are believed to be dating back to the Roman or pre-historic times. The castle is the only place of interest that is outside the Sassi.
Matera - Italy - Unesco World Heritage Site.
Stay and Accommodation
Matera is a fairly large city and an important tourist destination so it isn't surprising that there are plenty of good accommodation options here. There are several good hotels in the city as well as some very inexpensive Bed & Breakfasts. However, if you are visiting the city during the peak tourist seasons you might find it difficult to find a decent room. Some good hotels to try in the city are Hotel Sant'Angelo, B&B Casastella, Hotel La Casa di Lucio, Hotel Ridola Matera, Locanda Di San Martino and Hotel Caveoso.
Eating Out in Matera
There are some good options for eating out, both in the new city as well as the old city. The restaurants in the old city mostly have traditional Italian food and home style rustic dishes but dining in the old city is a different experience all together. The restaurants in the new city are modern, chic and some not so great. Some great places to try out in Matera are Bacanti, II Convivo, L'Angolo di Dante, La Latteria, La Stalla, Le Botteghe and Oi Mari. There are several good pizzerias and cafes right before the entrance to the Sassi and these are good places to have a light lunch before going in to explore the old city.
Shopping in Matera
Matera is not really a shopping destination since the city is not famous for producing any local specialties; the specialty here is the Sassi itself. However, strewn around the city there are a few shopping complexes, malls and chic showrooms in the modern city where visitors can find almost anything. There are also some smaller and more traditional shops in the city that sell excellent Italian wine, some good local cheese and odd souvenirs for visitors to take back home.