01 October 2007

Lucania...amazing Matera

The land of Sassi

While driving through the rolling plains of eastern Lucania you have no indication that there would be such striking geography for the city of Matera. The city is built on the edge of a deep valley carved through layers of a very soft limestone they call tufa. Caves form naturally in the rock layers along the valley. This light colored rock is easily carved into different shapes and cut into blocks for building, which gives the city a relatively uniform color.

Matera is famous for I Sassi, the two sections of the city that are built into and on the sides of the valley below the ancient city walls. From what we can tell from English and Italian guidebooks the sassi were originally used as a storage and wine producing area as well as hermitages until the civita above overflowed its fortified walls and people began to build out from the steep valley cliffs. This was the location used in the filming of the “Passion of the Christ” several years ago and since then there has been a revitalization of the sassi areas. There are views of uninhabited caves on the opposite cliff wall across the deep ravine, and incredible views of the sassi from these caves.

The sassi are built along the steep valley so there is a lot of up and down walking to see this area but around each curve you get a new view. We found that changing light at different times of day also provided different views of the same places and we had one day of mixed clouds and sun where the shadows played across the white stone.

There are several churches and convents built right into the stone. Many of the houses have a portion that is a cave and additional living quarters constructed outward from the wall. The roofs of these areas then become the street for the level above. The ceilings are barrel arches providing the required support. We stayed in an apartment that was recently restored that had the barrel ceiling and a small cave portion in the rear. There are a mix of hotels and restaurants that have cleverly utilized this unique architecture that are many times difficult to distinguish from the surrounding buildings.

We also saw many cantine, caves that were used for making and storing wine. Grapes would be brought down from the plains above the valley on donkeys and crushed in cisterns carved into the rock then stored in caves deep in the hillside.

The civita resting on the plain above the sassi has many attractions of its own and we found the entire city to be bustling with people going about their daily activities. This is a city that must be experienced first hand to fully appreciate. We have seen nothing like it anywhere else during our travels in Italy.

Rhonda, Celia, Valerie & Bryan

After a few days in Matera with Valerie's cousin Celia and her friend Rhonda all four of us headed west to the homeland of Anzi...

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