Matera, Italy: A Capital of Culture

A Superior Room in Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita in Matera
Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita is a "cave hotel" in Matera, Italy.

Being named a European Capital of Culture for 2019 should bring attention the enchanting city of Matera — famous for its ‘Sassi’ or cave dwellings carved into the hillside — as well as the surrounding region of Basilicata (the arch of Italy’s boot, between Puglia and Calabria).

“The town has flourished in recent years after a period of abandonment,” Jill Taylor, an Italy specialist with Jetset World Travel in Chicago, tells us. “The Sassi are now used as residences, shops, restaurants and hotels. [Guides can] take you on a walking tour of the Sassi district and bring to life the history of this extraordinary town.”

Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating back to the Paleolithic period. In 1993, UNESCO declared its historical center Sassi and the Rupestrian Churches park a World Heritage Site.

Unique accommodations in the town include the Sextantio, where the rooms and suites occupy a series of vaulted caves, and the Sant’Angelo, the product of a careful restoration of the 18th-century local royal court building, the old cave houses and a cave church. Both hotels offer guests the charm of the Sassi, with all the comforts of an exclusive, contemporary resort. 

Not all of the underground chambers have been converted to hotels, however. There are still uninhabited grottos on the edge of town that clients can explore. Other attractions in Matera include the ancient Benedictine Cripta del Peccato Originale (Crypt of the Original Sin), which contains frescoes of biblical figures dating to the 8th century, and Casa Noha. The latter, not far from the Matera Cathedral, is considered to be a gateway for visitors to learn the area’s history. 

Carefully conserved by FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano, The National Trust for Italy), it has walls made of tufa (a kind of porous limestone), vaulted ceilings, cornices and carvings, all typical of the architecture of the Sassi. Sharp-eyed silver-screen enthusiasts will note that much of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” Bruce Beresford’s “King David” and several other biblical movies were filmed in Matera. 

Matera, Italy: A Capital of Culture

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