Prior to the mid-20th century, the ancient Italian city of Matera was considered backwards, impoverished, and not a place that many tourists were keen on visiting. As the 20th century marched on, the discovery of a secret 9th century monastery known as the Crypt of the Original Sin and the allure of a city made almost entirely out of stone attracted artists, historians, and travelers from around the globe.
Today, Matera is a celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cave dwellings of Matera—which are known as Sassi—are some of the oldest continuously occupied cave dwellings on Earth. In addition to housing residents, the sassi of Matera are home to boutique hotels, Airbnbs, and and cafes where visitors can sip espresso and take in a stunning view of one of the world’s most well-preserved Paleolithic cities.
There are several walking tours of Matera which showcase the city’s grand, rugged rock churches, modern music venues, and historic cave dwellings. Casa Grotto C’era Una Volta showcases what life was like in the not so distant past when a family of 6 or more people lived in a sassi with their animals, tools, and personal belongings.
One of Matera’s most revered caves is a 9th century monastery known as the Crypt of the Original Sin. The Crypt of the Original Sin initially served as a secluded stone monastery where monks painted Biblical figures such Adam and Eve on the walls.
For several centuries, the Crypt of the Original Sin served as a cozy rest stop for shepherds and their sheep. The Crypt of the Original Sin didn’t receive widespread attention until the 1960s, when a group of students stumbled upon the cave and marveled at the well-preserved frescos that featured biblical scenes framed by delicate paintings of red roses.
Matera is also home to countless galleries, jazz clubs, and art installations. In recent years, large replicas of some of Salvador Dali’s most famous creations have lined the streets of Matera. Culture lovers and thrill-seekers also enjoy exploring the abandoned caves located in Sasso Caveso on the outskirts of Matera. It is important to approach uninhabited caves with caution, as falling rubble and debris can cause injury.
Less than a century ago, Matera was considered Italy‘s ugly duckling. These days, Matera is a celebrated hub of art, culture, and sweeping natural beauty. If you’re planning an Italian getaway, the ancient, rustic beauty of Matera never fails to enchant and enrapture.