The Sassi, the old town, the cave churches and the - Murgia Materana - Park are places that continually merge into each other, making for a fascinating itinerary that shows the historical evolution of Matera.
Visiting the Sassi of Matera
The Sassi represent a fascinating cultural landscape, which is the reason why they are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. Architecturally, they encompass a mixture of different elements that were stratified over time, such as rock dwellings, cave churches and burial grounds that repeatedly alternate with buildings belonging to disparate time periods such as the middle ages, the renaissance, the baroque and the modern age. As a matter of fact caves, hypogea, palaces, churches, neighbourhoods, staircases, galleries and gardens all intertwine together, creating a magical and unique atmosphere.
By taking a stroll on via Bruno Buozzi, via Madonna delle Virtù and via D’Addozio (the main route that connects the two Sassi districts) you can admire the view while also admiring the opposite side of the Murgia Materana. The alleys that weave around the buildings lead to ever-surprising and picturesque spots.
Visiting the historic center of Matera
The current old town is located on a plateau, delimiting the upper part of the Sassi. In the main square, Piazza Vittorio Veneto, you can see the hypogea, openings in the ground that form a full - fledged underground city. A feature of the hypogea is the Palombaro Lungo, a huge water tank, which has walls 15m high and used to be navigable. The old town started taking shape in the late 1600s, which is why the route connecting the main squares in the city centre is called XVIII century axis. Here you can find many important palaces and churches that played a significant role in the history of Matera.
In the historic center of Matera there are several squares along an axis called the eighteenth-century axis of the city because it took its appearance from the end of the 1600s. In the center of Matera there is a series of important buildings and churches that have had a particular importance in the course of city history.
The cathedral area - the XVIII century axis
By going up via Duomo from Piazza del Sedile you can reach the cathedral, which was built in 1270 in Romanesque style. Abreast there is a majestic bell tower, overlooking the whole town. Around the Cathedral there are some mansions that used to belong to aristocratic families, such as Palazzo Gattini (Counts Gattini), Palazzo Venusio (Marquis of Venusio), Palazzo Malvinni Malvezzi (dukes Malvini Malvezzi). In addition to these mansions (whose main function was protecting the mother church), these families used to own large plots of land in the Murgia and in the countryside.
The Chiesa del purgatorio (Lit. church of purgatory) can be reached by turning right on via Ridola from Piazza S. Francesco. On the right you can see the Museo Nazionale Domenico Ridola (Lit. Domenico Ridola National Museum). Most of the local archeological finds discovered by Ridola himself are displayed here. Piazzetta Pascoli along with Palazzo Lanfranchi is located at the end of the street. Palazzo Lanfranchi is currently home to the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna della Basilicata (lit. National museum of medieval and modern art of Basilicata). On the right there is an overlook from which you can see the Sasso Caveoso as well as the Monterrone rocky outcrop, where the cave churches of S. Maria de Idris and S. Giovanni in Monterrone are located.
Visiting the Murgia Park)
The Sassi are located on a slope of the canyon created by the Gravina stream, whereas on the other slope there is the Parco della Murgia Materana (lit. Murgia Materana Park). This is where the oldest local settlements took place, which include the Grotta dei pipistrelli (Lit. Bat cave), whose paleolithic finds are kept in the Museo Nazionale Domenico Ridola; the neolithic villages of Murgecchia, Murgia Timone and Trasanello; the cave village “della Selva” and the Saraceno (Saracen) village.
The overlook is a must-see and it’s situated on Murgia Timone, which in turn is located in front of the Sassi. From here you can fully admire the landscape. The overlook can be easily reached by car via the S.S. 7 (via Appia), which goes from Matera to Laterza. On the way you can find the church complexes of S. Nicola alla via Appia, Murgia Tre Ponti and San Falcione. Right underneath the overlook there are the cave churches of Madonna delle Tre Porte and S. Agnese. on Murgia Timone you can take various excursions so as to explore the east side of the Gravina, visit the neolithic villages or check out the cave church of Madonna delle Croci (though the last one is lengthier and therefore calls for a tour guide).