Matera (Italy) is not only about the magnificent Sassi! If you are wondering what to see in Matera during a weekend, just follow Traveling Italy suggestions. We will help you to explore every aspect of this very special city.
The Sassi constitute the historical centre of the town and they are the main interesting point, attracting thousands of tourists from all over the world every year. For all its peculiarity and beauties, Matera, in 1993, was included in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Besides, the town of Matera was elected European Capital of Culture in 2019.
Let’s start with a visit to the historical centre that will take you to new places which are worth visiting, such as the evocative houses that were excavated and converted into museums, small theaters and so much more.
Top main attractions in Matera
Matera Caves: Casa Cava Matera
In Sasso Barisano, Casa Cava Matera – home of the Centre for Creativity – is definitely worth a visit.
Casa Cava Matera is located next to the Rupestrian Church of San Pietro Barisano. The peculiarity is the pit with a special system for extracting ashlars. This is very rare in Matera, where the main technique was the open excavation.
There is no information on the date when the quarry was put into use: according to some researchers it could date back to 1663 (the same year when Matera was elected capital of Basilicata). It is possible to access it by crossing some caves connected to the great hall.
Today Casa Cava is a multipurpose cultural centre, entirely excavated in the rock. It has an area of 900 square metres and it consists of 10 different rooms, including an auditorium that can accommodate up to 140 people. Its versatility makes it a suitable venue for any type of event.
The Cathedral of Matera
The Duomo, or the Cathedral dedicated to the Madonna della Bruna and Sant’Eustachio, is the main place of worship of the town. There are other countless places of worship, but smaller: such as churches, rock churches and small chapels.
The Cathedral of Matera was built in the 13th century following the Apulian Romanesque style. It was constructed on the highest spur of the Civita which divides the two Sassi, near the ancient Benedictine monastery of Sant’Eustachio (the Saint protector of the town).
To ensure that the new temple dominated the surrounding buildings and the two valleys of the Sassi, it was necessary to raise the rocky base by more than six meters.
Inside the Cathedral there is the high altar, restored in 1627. It is positioned under the large altarpiece by Fabrizio Santafede depicting the Virgin Mary surrounded by Saints. In the apse you can admire a fine solid walnut choir that was carved in 1453 by Giovanni Tantino and divided into 60 stalls. On the upper right there is an electric organ built by the Ruffatti brothers, which contains 35 registers on two manuals and a pedal.
Il Palombaro Lungo: the underground part of Matera
Did you know that one of the things to see in Matera is its underground? Don’t miss the descent to the Palombaro Lungo. It is the largest underground cistern in the city, located under the flooring of Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Here, rain and spring waters of the hills of La Nera, Lapillo and Macamarda meet.
The Palombaro Lungo, together with other underground cisterns, forms the famous underground part of the town. The cistern is part of a water collection system that extends along the entire length of the Sassi of Matera. In ancient times it was needed to supply its inhabitants.
Visiting the cistern is a very special experience. The tufa walls have a rounded shape and they are covered with a waterproof plaster (cocciopesto). They are about 18 metres deep, 50 metres wide and they have a capacity of about 5 million litres of water. The Palombaro allowed the inhabitants of Matera to access the water supply by lowering small buckets through two external holes.
From the MUSMA Matera to the Matera Library
The face of the most “modern” Matera can be found in the MUSMA, considered the most important Italian museum entirely dedicated to contemporary sculpture. It is housed in the evocative setting of Palazzo Pomarici (XVI century) and it is the only museum that is located inside of “a cave” in the entire world. It is the perfect place to experience a complete symbiosis between the sculptures and some of the most characteristic places, carved in the Sassi of Matera. The museum spaces do not only consist of the areas that are constructed above ground, but also to the large excavated underground areas. Here, the visitor can experience a truly “full-immersion” experience, consisting of an intense emotional impact: walking among these secular environments – carved by man – and the contemporary sculpture.
Another very important place, full of culture, is the Matera Library; also named the Provincial Library “Tommaso Stigliani”. The current head office are much more spacious than the previous one and it contains a large number of rare and precious books. Many of these come from various donations by many Matera families who have made their cultural heritage available to all citizens. Around the 1980s, the library was enriched with a vast collection of vintage gramophones donated by Roberto Merolla, a professor at the Egidio Romualdo Duni Conservatory. It was also added a roller organ belonging to the De Curtis family.
Time for curiosity: James Bond movie
Matera has often been the location for religious movies, such as “The Passion” by Mel Gibson and “The Gospel according to Matthew” by Pier Paolo Pasolini. This is because its urban structure is somewhat reminiscent of Jerusalem.
The decision to set Cary Fukunaga’s film “No Time To Die” – the 25th chapter of the James Bond saga – in Matera has helped the town to regain its identity. It is a colossal production that features Matera as protagonist for more than 20 minutes, in one of the longest and most action-packed sequences. For most of the time to be the background are the Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso.
Thanks to the Lucana Film Commission, the Municipality of Matera and Tiziana Rocca Productions, an itinerary has already been created, renamed “Tour Bond“. This is a tour of the locations where the scenes of the film were shot, to get to know these places better, to discover some curiosity or anecdote about the shotting and to let visitors experience the atmosphere and the story of 007.
Where to eat: Dimora Ulmo Matera
Where to eat in Matera is truly a superfluous question: wherever it is possible to taste the dishes of Lucanian and Matera tradition. These dishes are based on the ancient agro-pastoral tradition, often with a contemporary twist.
However, there is a restaurant that stands out above all the rest for its refinement and the marvelous panoramic view of the Sassi: Dimora Ulmo Matera. This restaurant is listed on the Michelin Guide and it has a truly authentic soul. This is also reflected through the concept that defines this Matera local like a “renewed return to tradition”. Dimora Ulmo Matera defines elegance put on a plate, creating a corner of pure gastronomic excellence in the heart of the most beautiful and noble residence: the Sassi.
What to see nearby
- Altamura (24 minutes by car)
The territory of Altamura (province of Bari) lies within the Alta Murgia National Park. The town certainly owes its fame to the production of bread, which, in 2005, was the first Italian product to receive the DOP (protected designation of origin) designation.
- San Giuliano Natural Reserve (18 minutes by car)
The San Giuliano Nature Reserve is a WWF Oasis. It covers about 1,300 hectares, where you can quietly admire various species of animals and plants – some of them rare – present in this wetland.
- Cave di Tufo (36 minutes by car)
Cave di Tufo is a vast area between the hillsides of San Giorgio and Faggiano that was once used for the extraction of tuff.
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