The Surroundings of Matera in Basilicata


The charming places to see in the surroundings of Matera in Basilicata are little gems to be discovered. Here are our suggestions:

  • Ionian Coast and MAGNA GREECE (45 minutes/1 hour by car): stretches of fine golden sand are combined with a crystalline sea that was crossed a time from the ancient ships of the Greeks and Romans. Metaponto, the heart of Magna Grecia where Pythagoras lived and died , preserves the remains of its National Archaeological Museum and the ruins of the houses and temples, like the Palatine Tables, the remains of the temple of Hera. The area of ​​Ancient Greece also pervades the nearby Policoro, the ancient Heraclea, with the acropolis of the city inside the archaeological site, the sacred spaces that refer to the cult of Dionysus and Demeter and the exhibits kept in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale della Siritide.



  • DOLOMITI LUCANE (1 hour by car): Situated in the Apennines the Lucan Dolomites form the heart of the homonymous Regional Natural Park (which extends to the forests of Gallipoli Cognato). The small dolomites are called the the most famous trivenete mountains for the morphological similarity. The birth of the mountain range, overlooking the central part of the Basento valley, dates back to 15 million years ago. The beautiful towns of Pietrapertosa and Castelmezzano offer the experience of the ANGEL FLIGHT (a steel cable suspended between the peaks of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa allows you to try out for a few minutes the thrill of the flight: a unique adventure in Italy but also in the World for the beauty of the landscape and for the maximum overflight height). Pietrapertosa is the highest town in Basilicata and is part of the Club’s most beautiful little towns in Italy, which includes nearly 200 locations along the entire peninsula, and in which there is also Castelmezzano.




  • THE VULTURE (1 hour and a half by car): The Vulture is an extinct volcano that has given life to a rich environmental heritage, where the places of natural type are related to the presence of forests, springs (water Lilia, Gaudianello and Sveva), sub-mountain streams and vineyards (which produce the wine Aglianico del Vulture). The most charming places of this aerea are: Venosa, Melfi and the Monticchio lakes. Venosa is one of the 200 “most beautiful villages in Italy”: birthplace of the great Horace, one of the greatest poets of the Roman era and the cradle of an artistic heritage of priceless beauty, such as the Abbey of the Holy Trinity, the Roman Archeological Park, the Castle of Pirro del Balso, now the seat of the National Archaeological Museum, the Paleolithic site  of Notarchirico and the Jewish Catacombs. Melfi, a city dear to the Normans and to Frederick II (in Melfi he issued the “Constitutiones Augustales”, the largest legislative work of the Middle Ages), was built around the imposing castle which now houses the National Archaeological Museum (with ancient objects from the VII c. BC to the XVII century: the most important is the Sarcophagus of Rapolla, a magnificent funerary monument from the Roman period). Finally the Monticchio Lakes, located at the south western aquifer of Mount Vulture, occupy the craters of the old volcano. Just above the lakes, there is the Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo that was built in the VIII century A.D., around a cave inhabited by Byzantine monks.

The surroundings of Matera in Apulia


After visiting Matera and after have discovered the Sassi and the surrounding area of ​​Gravina and the Murgia with its ancient rocky churches, extend your stay for a few days so that you will have the opportunity to visit some of the most interesting and suggestive surroundings of the Apulia Region, reachable in a few kilometers  and in one hour driving from Matera.

Visit the Castel del Monte (the monument that appears in the 2 euros cents) to admire the majestic and mysterious octagonal building built by Frederick II in the XIII century. From here, you can easily reach Trani to enjoy its seaside and to visit the famous seaside cathedral, the synagogue and the Swabian castle.

Do not miss, undoubtedly, the trulli of Alberobello and the beautiful and colorful Itria Valley,  visiting the fascinating caves of Castellana (close to the beautiful village overlooking the sea of ​​Polignano a Mare). The Itria valley is very rich in interesting towns, such as Martina Franca and Cisternino, and the white Ostuni.

A trip to Taranto will allow you to see the great historical and archaeological heritage in  MARTA Museum where the largest collection of artifacts of the Magna Grecia is exhibited.

A nice stop to the near Altamura (15 minutes driving) to visit the imposing cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta wanted and personally designed by the legendary Frederick II of Swabia, very fond of Apulia and of Southern Italy. A little further away, there is also the town of Gravina, built over the ravine of Gravina (the same of  Matera) and with enviroments excavated into the tuff rock.

Schedule your time in the visit of this part of the South and spend a few more days in Matera and its territory, you will not regret!

The SASSI of Matera


Matera is famous for its exceptional historical center, in particular for its most characteristic quarters, the Sasso “Caveoso” and the Sasso “Barisano”, which together with the “Civita” district form a complex urban nucleus, today referred to as the Sassi di Matera, from 1993 included by UNESCO on the list of World Heritage Sites. “Sasso” means a district carved into the rock, and the Sassi of Matera are literally sculpted close to a deep ravine, la Gravina.

The rock of the promontory where the Sassi were developed consists mainly of calcarenite, locally called tuff, a sedimentary rock of marine origin, which is tender and easily to shape and to excavate. This allowed the formation of numerous natural caves, facilitating the ingenious work of man with the excavation and retrieval of construction material, and allowing them to dig bigger space in the house, canals and cisterns, the so-called negative architecture.

The natural caves, numerous in the territory of Matera, were the first mansions for men, who did not passively pass the forms of nature but appropriated them, determining routes and architectures in the cave by digging and shaping.

A laborious excavation work began many centuries ago, and part of the resulting material was also used to close the entrance to the cave, dabbing it.

In addition to the excavation the cave was also enlarged with a type of construction, called “lamione”, which extended the cave to the outside. The main part of the houses of the Sassi seems to be very small from the outside, until you don’t open the door and realize that there’s an underground part that can be a small simple cave or, even 5 or 6 floors excavated.

Of course, more cavities exist one on top of the other, arranged in a brilliant and chaotic way, and you get to count up to ten floors dug one on top of the other. The roof of a house is, above, a street, a stairway, a garden, or the floor for another house.

Frequently, walking in the Sassi, you come across the chimneys that appear in the street because, without realizing it, we are actually walking on the roof of a house.

The tangle of tunnels is inextricable, and it is unimaginable the underground development of the city, which we tried to make with a section of a small area of ​​the Sassi, but actually it is difficult to render graphics, and can only give a vague idea, which will serve you to understand how what is normally seen by the Sassi is only the external film.


The orography of the territory and the nature of the rock have favored the human settlement since prehistoric times, and today we tend to place the first population of the area in the Neotlithic age.

“Matera is the only place in the world where the inhabitants can say they live in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago” recites Fodor’s, an English guide.

Matera, in fact, is considered one of the oldest cities in the world, as well as the oldest where there has been continuity of life.

The history of the “Palace of the Abbots”

Around 1000 a.C. the church of San Pietro Barisano was excavated in a rocky ridge, in the valley of the Sasso “Barisan”. In 1467, Pope Paul II gave the right of patronage of the church and its assets to Matthew Ciminelli: St. Peter Barisano became an “independent church” provided of the Chapter Ciminelli for the administration and it acquired the title of “Abbot”. The churches were a typical figure of Southern Italy : they used to have the task of managing substantial real estate assets and production, were provided with a board of directors ( Chapter ) appointed by noble families (not by Curia) with rights of patronage, and the head of the chapter was placed the figure of the Abbot . It was a sort of joint-stock company : the rents were in fact divided in proportion to the participants. The family Ciminelli has managed the church for over two centuries with many Abbots, followed by the noble family Venusio .

In 1755 the appointment of the Abbot and the management of the church passed to the higher noble family in the city of Matera: the counts Gattini. These implemented a major renovation of the church , reconstructing the entire face , placing the elegant rose window and giving it a bell tower. Next to the church and in communication with this , the Palace of the Abbots was built by the counts Gattini with lavish environments for the Abbot of the Chapter and practical service areas (kitchens , stables , cisterns , tanks).

In 1867 the law n.3848 of the young Italian Government decreed the abolition of the accommodated churches and the confiscation of their assets. The church of St. Peter Barisan is stripped of 48 homes, 5 mills, 27 plots, 13 vineyards, 2 caves for the production of honey and wax, and the Palace of the Abbots. Here lived the last Abbot : Rev. Nicola Scivizzero . The Palace , together with all the goods of the church , was auctioned by the State. The Abbot Don Scivizzero attended the Auction and managed to win it : he bought at auction the same building where he lived.

Of course, as abbot , he could not have children, so the whole structure was inherited by his sister Grazia Scivizzero . It was the year 1883. Since then, generation by generation, the Palace has been handed down as a legacy to the current owners . But his life hadn’t been not always easy. At every transfer of property, the Palace was divided among the heirs, so in the twentieth century appeared to be inhabited by 10 families, one for each room of the hotel, including the rooms initially born as deposits , tanks and cellars. It was the time of the poorest old history of Matera, when the peasants used to live in the Sassi, and were forced to march for hours to get to the fields, owned by large landowners , and this caused a high population density and often cohabitation with the mule, also useful for the trips to the fields.

In 1952 the ten families who lived there  were easily marked with nicknames, as it was common at that time: Cudd’ngsset , Quaparraun , Bamm’n , Senza Nidd , Ui Momm , Martnas , Zannaun , Maiustr, Iongiacit , Czzlaun. In that year, the Parliament issued the law 619, decreeing the coercive evacuation of the Sassi . The ten families who lived in the palace , like all the others who lived in the Sassi , had to leave their houses. All the people that used to live in the Sassi, they could have a new popular house for free if they gave up the property to the State, otherwise they had to buy a new house with their money if they wanted to keep the property of the house in the Sassi. The 80% of the inhabitants of the Sassi decided to give up the property to the State even because they could not afford the purchase of a new house. In the ex Palace of the abbots, among the ten families , only one did not accept a popular house and kept the property: the family Cudd’ngsset .

For 60 years, the palace has been abandoned , such as all the Sassi area. It had been partially occupied by squatters , making it stores and warehouses . Furniture and furnishings are subject to theft and two environments suffered a devastating fire in 1983 , when a group of young people used them as a meeting place. Finally, with the special law for the Sassi 771 of 1986, it decreed the national significance of the Sassi and promotes the repopulation of the districts . Nowadays the State may grant the state property at no charge to those who restructures.

In 2007, Vita Maria Andrulli , grandson of Cudd ‘ ngsset family requested the State the permission to begin the work of restoration and the granting of state property neighbors, and the reconstruction of the Palace took place. The entire main floor , consisting of six rooms , is granted for 35 years in exchange for the restoration, which began in 2011. During the summer of 2013, the building went back to its former glory . The careful restoration has left unchanged the signs of aging, and has returned many times decorated , the original floor tiles and health environments excavated. The structure now consists of five spacious suites and reception desk – Breakfast Room, opened to the public in the month of August 2013, ready to take on new chapters in its history.


Itineraries to visit Matera


Before reading our suggested itinerary we advise you to have a look at this: What does it mean “SASSI”?


FIRST DAY (Sassi and Historical Center)

From our hotel we recommend you to start right away with the church of San Pietro BARISANO, the biggest rocky church of the Sassi, as well as the only one with a frontdoor and a bell tower (added in the XVIII century, when the Palace of the Abbots was built together with). It’s just next door, on the right side.

At the end of our little square, just after the Bell tower of Saint Peter Barisano there is also CASA CAVA, a former quarry where tuff bricks were extracted, today restored to Auditorium.

After Casa Cava, COME BACK TO THE RECEPTION and take advantage of our elevator and the steps of the bistrot that will lead you to the so-called “Città al piano”. This is a SECRET SHORTCUT and these steps will be the only “effort”…then everything will be easy!  Once you get upstairs, when you don’t see steps any more, TURN ON THE LEFT, you’ll get to  the Church of  SAN GIOVANNI BATTISTA in just 3 minutes, this is the oldest church in the “Città al piano” dating back to the XIV century (free entrance).

After a few meters you will get to Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the main town square where you can admire a beautiful view of the Sasso Barisano and the Cathedral from the three arches, and you can look out on the Hypogeum:  one Hypogeum is the PALOMBARO LUNGO, the biggest cistern dug in Europe, where there is the possibility to visit it with a guided tour of 30 minutes (3€) where you’ll ge to know everything about the system of collecting the rainy water (main reason why the Sassi of Matera have been chosen by UNESCO as World Heritage). You could also visit the other Hypogeum
, behind the square, with a tour that lasts one hour, the so called Matera Sotterranea.

Follow Via delle Beccherie until Piazza Duomo, where you can go inside the Cathedral (free entrance), and admire the beautiful view of another part of the Sasso Barisano.

From Piazza Duomo, cross Piazza del Sedile, go to the baroque church of San Francesco di Assisi and to the Baroque Church of the Purgatory,  unusual church for its frontdoor decorations representing skeletons, skulls and people in flames (in the Purgatory).

Keep walking along Via Ridola, reach Piazzetta Pascoli and from there enjoy the view of the Sasso Caveoso and of the Gravina. Go to Via Bruno Buozzi to immerse yourself in the Sasso Caveoso, where you can admire the beautiful Rock Church of Madonna dell’Idris. Go towards the church of San Pietro Caveoso and pass under the arch on the right: here you’ll see Casa Grotta (a typical house in cave of a poor family before the evacuation of the Sassi in the 1950s when this area was called the Shame of Italy because of the bad conditions of living in caves without electricity, sewer and running water). Keep going on the street along the canyon and you’ll see the Rock Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve and at the end the historical area of an early medieval cemetery.

Go back to Piazza San Pietro Caveoso and continue on the panoramic road on the ravine Gravina, via Madonna delle Virtù, and then turn right to go up to Via D’Addozio that will lead you back to our hotel.




SECOND DAY  (Rocky Churches and Murgia)

Start your day visiting the rocky churches of Madonna delle Virtù and San Nicola dei Greci, two frescoed cave wondered, one over the other, a monastery and old houses with tanks and troughs (in this period there is a contemporary art exhibition about the sculptures of Salvador Dalì).

We recommend  you to spend the rest of the day visiting  the Archaeological Park of the Rocky Churches(Parco Archeologico delle Chiese Rupestri), reachable by car in 15 minutes.

The Archaeological Park of the Rocky Churches is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993 and it is a unique place in the world where architecture and nature mingle until they merge. Here you can revive ten centuries of spirituality in over 150 rock churches, and you can also admire the most beautiful panorama of the Sassi of Matera, the river, the deep ravine Gravina and the movie location where Mel Gibson filmed the Crucifixion of Jesus in the film “The Passion of Christ” .

In the afternoon, we recommend you not to miss the beautiful and mystical Crypt of the Original Sin (Cripta del Peccato Originale) known as the Sistine Chapel of the rocky art, dating to the VIII-XIX centuries. The crypt was the place of worship of a rural settlement from the Middle Age which included a small monastic community. The church is adorned with splendid frescos, of a high aesthetic and theological value. It’s reachable by car or by private transfer that we can arrange for you.




THIRD DAY  (Museums and Culture)

The third day we recommend you to deepen the reality of the Sassi and the history of the nearby area by visiting the Museums of the City such as:

  • the National Archaeological Museum “Domenico Ridola” that will let you travel from the Paleolithic Age to the Middle Ages.

  • Museum of the Contemporary Sculpture (MUSMA), the only museum in the cave in the world and the main Italian museum dedicated to Sculpture, which tells the story of the Italian and International sculpture, from the late 1800s to today.

  • National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata, inside Palazzo Lanfranchi, a XVII century building, built as a seminary and later used as a high school, whose exhibition is divided into sections of Sacred Art, Collections and Contemporary Art. Downstairs there is the Levi room with the large painting “Lucania ’61” painted by Carlo Levi.
  • La Casa Ortega, designed to document the presence in Matera of the great Spanish artist José Ortega, and to facilitate the discovery and exploitation of the local craft tradition.
  • La Casa in Grotta, an opportunity to realize how the life of some excavated houses of Sasso Caveoso were before they had been abandoned for the evacuation, that took place  for a Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi law, in 1952 . The house is furnished with authentic furniture and tools of the time when it was inhabited, and there are several in the Sassi.