Experiencing Italy's Lesser-known Matera

A Journey to the City of Stones

Let me take you on a peculiar journey to a place where time seems to have pressed the pause button, the ancient city of Matera, a geological oddity nestled in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. Picture a labyrinth of limestone caves, steep, winding alleys, and a curious peek into the past. This journey is not for the faint-hearted or those who crave the mundane. No, my friends, Matera is a place where the peculiar reigns supreme and the unexpected lingers around every corner.

Rocky Beginnings

Our story begins somewhere around 9,000 years ago (give or take a few millennia), when the first inhabitants of Matera decided to carve their homes into the soft limestone hills. This unique method of construction gave birth to the sassi (meaning "stones" in Italian), a network of cave dwellings that would define the city for centuries to come.

Fast forward to medieval times, when Matera was a bustling trading hub on the Appian Way, attracting merchants, monks, and the occasional miscreant. It was during this period that the city's most famous architectural feature, the exquisite Romanesque cathedral, was constructed, providing a beacon of faith (and perhaps a touch of divine intervention) for the rambunctious locals.

But as with all good stories, Matera's tale takes a turn for the worse. Over time, the city fell into disrepair and squalor, with the sassi becoming a breeding ground for disease and destitution. By the 1950s, the Italian government decided enough was enough and forcibly relocated the city's residents, leaving the ancient cave city a ghostly, uninhabited shell.

From Ghost Town to Tourist Destination

But fear not, dear traveler, for Matera's story does not end with its abandonment. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes (or, in this case, a city rising from the limestone), Matera has undergone a remarkable renaissance in recent years. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, the city has since attracted a steady stream of intrepid explorers, history buffs, and enthusiastic foodies, all eager to uncover the secrets of this once-forgotten city.

And so, without further ado, allow me to share my insider tips for navigating this captivating city of stone:

Discover the Sassi di Matera

First and foremost, any visitor to Matera must explore the city's two ancient neighborhoods, Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. Here, you'll find a veritable treasure trove of cave dwellings, rock-hewn churches, and intricate frescoes, all lovingly restored to showcase the city's rich history.

One cannot help but feel a sense of awe as they wander the winding streets and alleyways of the sassi, marveling at the sheer ingenuity of Matera's ancient inhabitants. And while you're at it, why not indulge your inner spelunker and spend a night in a cave hotel? It's not every day you get to sleep in a 9,000-year-old bedroom, after all.

Explore Matera's Culinary Delights

As any self-respecting Italian city, Matera boasts a culinary scene that is both delectable and diverse. From traditional trattorias serving up hearty plates of orecchiette pasta to trendy wine bars offering local varietals, there's no shortage of gastronomic delights for your taste buds to savor.

And for those looking to sample the city's most famous export, look no further than Matera's renowned bread. Baked in traditional wood-fired ovens and boasting a distinctive crunchy crust, this humble loaf is so revered that it's protected by a European Union designation (the first bread in Italy to receive such an honor).

Immerse Yourself in Matera's Cultural Scene

While you may initially be drawn to Matera for its history and architecture, it's the city's vibrant cultural scene that will truly capture your imagination. From the annual Women's Fiction Festival, which attracts literary luminaries from around the world, to the vibrant street art that adorns the city's ancient walls, Matera is a city that embraces creativity in all its forms.

And, in a fitting tribute to its remarkable rebirth, Matera was named the European Capital of Culture for 2019, hosting a year-long program of events and exhibitions that celebrated the city's unique heritage and culture.

Embarking on Your Own Matera Adventure

So, my intrepid travelers, are you ready to embark on your own adventure to this lesser-known Italian gem? Whether you're drawn to the allure of ancient history, the mouthwatering cuisine, or the city's burgeoning arts scene, there's no denying that Matera offers an experience like no other.

Just remember to pack your sense of wonder and an appetite for the unexpected, and you'll soon find yourself weaving your way through the labyrinthine streets of this city of stones, uncovering the many secrets that lie within.

Article kindly provided by myfavouritehols.com