Not far from Ostuni, going inland for a hundred kilometers, you arrive in Matera, known as “City of the Sassi”. Matera is one of the oldest cities in the world, whose territory holds evidence of human settlement from the Paleolithic to the present day, an extraordinary page of history written by man over millennia.
Matera is first of all and for all the city of the Sassi: the original urban core of the city, an amazing rocky landscape developed from the natural caves carved into the rock and then shaped into more complex structures within two large natural amphitheater, called Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. Declared in 1993 a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the Sassi are the sixth site in Italy in chronological order and the first of Southern Italy.
But the city is also the center of a great heritage of culture and traditions with a complex and fascinating history. Border place, melding between different landscapes, cultures and civilizations. From the civilization of the modus vivendi in cave, to that of Byzantine and eastern matrix, at the advent of Normans, in Matera there was a systematic attempt to adapt the rock city to the rules of European city culture. On the backdrop of this past, the city today offers its visitors the feeling of discovering, on the original thread of their culture, the traces of that competition that has characterized it for long time. The Sassi are further enriched by the charm of the rock churches, mystical places where religiosity has determined the evolution of human life, lived in rocky environments, often endowed with refined architectural decorations and fascinating frescoes with oriental art elements.
In the two districts of the Sassi, Caveoso and Barisano, you can visit many cave churches characterized by different features: the grandeur of San Pietro Barisano, often used for concerts, and the various and rich iconography of Santa Lucia alle Malve. The rocky complex of Sant’Antonio Convicinio has a great charm and appeal, and welcomes visitors through an elegant portal that leads to a rectangular courtyard, overlooked by four churches with different characteristics. Dominate the Caveoso the rocky mass of Monterrone, within which are the churches of Santa Maria de Idris and San Giovanni, which form, through an internal passage, a single ecclesiastical complex. Characterized by a masonry facade embellished by pointed arches and pilasters, is the Santa Maria de Armenis church, now place of interesting art exhibitions. A small jewel of rock art is the church of Santa Barbara, rich in precious frescoes and characterized by the original iconostasis.
Don’t miss a visit to the rocky complex of Madonna delle Virtù and San Nicola dei Greci, where, in the striking spaces excavated in the rock, is hosted annually by members of the Cultural Circle La Scaletta, an exhibition of international sculpture that has already seen exhibited, in previous editions, works by great artists such as Arturo Martini, Duilio Cambellotti and Pericle Fazzini. The historic center of Matera is located on a plateau that highlights the Sassi of Matera and shows the different levels of overlapping of urban layers: in the Piazza Vittorio Veneto, for example, dominates the Great Palazzo dell’Annunziata, former convent and current home of the Provincial Library, in which there are some openings that show the original level of places, today called hypogea, which are located below the same square. From Piazza del Sedile, going up Via Duomo, you arrive at the Cathedral dating back to 1270, alongside a majestic bell tower overlooking the entire landscape of the city. Around the Cathedral there are the palaces of the noble families, erected so as to be the guardians of the mother church, such as Palazzo Gattini, Palazzo Venusio and Palazzo Malvini Malvezzi.
A movie, more than any other revealed the Basilicata when it was unknown to the world: the “Vangelo secondo Matteo” by Pier Paolo Pasolini. An intense emotion and an extraordinary revelation: this was in 1964 the Vangelo secondo Matteo. The Osservatore Romano defines it today as the best film about Jesus, but when it came to the cinema it was censured and contested: a great film about religion and man, about poverty and hope, pain and love. The impact of that film revealed, in short, that Italy had changed in the great international scenario and that the Catholic world had also changed.
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