Small but spectacular city in Basilicata, Matera is mainly known for the extraordinary nature of its Sassi. Having become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the first site in southern Italy to receive this honor, Matera is one of the oldest cities still inhabited in the world.

The history of Matera can be traced back to the Paleolithic thanks to the numerous remains found in the area and the caves that can be seen by doing small trekking trips around the city.
The territory witnessed numerous different dominions, such as Greek, Roman and Lombard, which meant that the city of Matera could have exchanges and relationships with numerous surrounding civilizations.
An important episode in the history of Matera dates back to 1943, when the Lucanian city was the first city in southern Italy to rise up against the Nazi occupation on the famous day of the "Matera massacre". On this occasion, the city of Matera decided to rise up after the German occupation which, in response, had several civilians and soldiers arrested and locked up in the Palazzo della Milizia. On November 21st, the Germans left the city of Matera, but not before blowing up the building in which, at the time of the explosion, 16 people were imprisoned.

You could decide to spend a weekend in Matera or discover it joining one of our tours:

⇒ Cycling holidays in Italy: Unesco tour

⇒ Walk the Cammino Materano

⇒ Matera and the tour of Puglia by road bike

⇒ Discover Matera and the north of Puglia

⇒ Beautiful South: Sassi, Trulli and Baroque

What to see in Matera

We have prepared a list of things not to be missed in Matera to enjoy the beauty of this fascinating World Heritage city in peace. Why not decide to dedicate a day to discover the beauties of Matera?

  • The Sassi of Matera
  • Matera Cathedral
  • Crypt of Original Sin

And now let's set off together to discover the most incredible places in Matera!

The Sassi of Matera

Walking through Matera it is impossible not to notice the very famous and spectacular "Sassi". These are two neighborhoods of the city, Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, where it is possible to admire houses and rock buildings built inside the excavated rock. These cave-like structures have been inhabited since the Neolithic by civilizations who have never left this area. Precisely for this reason, the urban settlement of the Sassi derives from  different forms of urbanization and civilization that have followed one another for centuries, the main reason that made the Sassi "World Heritage Site" in 1993.
A very interesting literary curiosity is that the writer Carlo Levi, in describing the funnel-shaped structure of the stones that are positioned on the mountain slopes, compared them to the funnel-shaped structure described in Dante Alighieri's Inferno.
In any case, the best way to visit this open-air museum is to walk through its streets and be bewitched by its wonders!

Matera Cathedral

The cathedral of the city of Matera is dedicated to the Madonna della Bruna and Sant'Eustachio, the patron saints of the city, and represents the main place of worship in the area. The cathedral was built in the 13th century in Apulian Romanesque style, on the spur that divides the two Sassi, for this reason it is possible to reach it by walking in the ancient area of the city.
The cathedral was built starting from 1230 on the remains of an ancient Benedictine monastery, and on the remains of an ancient early Christian cemetery.
The architecture has remained the same as the original one, characterized by the imposing rose window on the facade, surrounded by at least four distinct figures. The entire façade is then decorated with numerous sculptures of saints and religious figures. As regards the interior, however, this is made up of three naves and, unlike the exterior, starting from 1600 it has undergone numerous changes over the years, which is why it contains several different styles.
Particularly emblematic is the sarcophagus containing the remains of San Giovanni da Matera, together with the fresco of the Madonna della Bruna with the Blessing Child with two fingers created in 1270 by Rinaldo da Taranto.

Crypt of Original Sin

The crypt of Original Sin is a rock church with a unique and very particular appearance, for this reason it is often nicknamed the "Sistine Chapel of the rock".
It is a very ancient church dating back to a period between the 8th and 9th centuries, full of wonderful frescoes which help to establish its historical period. The building was abandoned for centuries, until it was found in 1963 by members of a club and subjected to numerous restoration works.
Inside it is possible to admire a single room finely decorated with an ancient and wonderful cycle of frescoes created by the so-called "Flower Painter of Matera". The paintings depict religious figures, apostles, Madonnas and archangels of clear Lombard style with some influences deriving from Byzantine and Roman art. Everything is completed by some flower frescoes scattered throughout the crypt, the same ones that gave the name to the painter who created them. The most curious thing, however, is that each fresco is briefly described in an epigraph in Latin.
Nowadays it is possible to reach the crypt by car or with a 14 km trek, achievable only by the most experienced, and take a guided tour inside while also enjoying a wonderful light show.

What to do in Matera - the Slow Active Tours proposal

Once you have discovered the wonders hidden among the streets of Matera, the time has come to get to the heart of the sounds and smells of this ancient village. For this reason, we have prepared a list of things to do in Matera that you absolutely cannot miss!

  • The Murgia Materana Park

    If you love walking and nature, you can't miss a trekking trip in the Murgia Park of Matera. It is a protected natural area within which you can admire numerous rock churches in the area. The park was born in 1990 with the aim of protecting and preserving the naturalistic and archaeological beauties present in the area. Numerous finds dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic are still preserved inside, but above all here it is possible to admire around 150 rock churches. In addition to the archaeological wonders, the park was established to protect the local flora and fauna, of which you can admire around 923 species of plants, trees and shrubs and numerous local species of birds of prey, mammals and reptiles. It is a magical place where you absolutely cannot miss relaxing or practicing sports and outdoor activities.

  • Casa Grotta in Vico Solitario

    Visiting Matera on foot and reaching Sasso Caveoso, you will notice the Casa Grotta located in Vico Solitario street. It is an old house inside a cave which is still perfectly preserved and furnished with the furniture and utensils used in the 1950s, a period in which, following the De Gasperi law, the cave houses were abandoned. In this magical place where time has stopped, you will have the opportunity to admire a single environment within which traditional utensils and furnishings made of iron and wood are preserved, as well as the manger for the mule that lived inside the homes.

  • FAI NOHA House

    Walking through the upper part of Matera, in the Sasso Caveoso area you can come across the very particular Casa Noha: a perfect example of private architecture in the Sassi, made of tuff and characterized by high vaulted ceilings. The house once belonged to the noble Noha family, but once abandoned, the heirs decided to donate it to the FAI (Italian non-profit organization which protect physical heritage), allowing everyone to enjoy its beauties. Today it is open and allows all its visitors to take a multimedia journey through the Lucanian area seen from different perspectives.

  • Historic center of Matera

    Taking a stroll around Matera is for sure the best option to enjoy its beauty and its historic center. Climb the stairs, enter the narrow streets between the stones and enjoy the authentic wonder that only a city like Matera can offer and, if you have time, you can also go into some shops and talk to some local artisans, they will be able to reveal all the hidden secrets!

  • Cammino Materano

    If you are a trekking lover, you cannot miss the opportunity to set off on a path that connects Matera and Bari on foot! This is the Cammino Materano, a wonderful trekking excursion that will take you to the hidden and uncontaminated beauties of the Mediterranean scrub and its paths and which connects the entire Murge area, starting right from Matera and arriving, after several stages, in the city of Bari.

Popular festivals and celebrations of Matera

Like all the great centers of the south, the city of Matera is also rich in folklore and loves to celebrate all the traditions of the past.
For this reason, if you are in the city of Matera between July and August, you cannot miss the Crapiata Festival. These are two nights in which the locals love to eat toasted bread with tomatoes and "crapiata", a traditional simple soup made with legumes, potatoes and wheat. For the occasion, the city is filled with stalls serving typical dishes accompanied by a good wine, to celebrate the new harvest.
Another traditional religious festival celebrated in the city is that of the Madonna della Bruna, the patron saint of the city. On this occasion, a papier-mâché float is paraded through the city which is then destroyed at the end of the parade. Tradition dictates that the float is then rebuilt every year and then paraded again the following year.
Another event that is worth your visit is the living nativity scene that takes place every year inside the stones of Matera, and which is always accompanied by an evocative via Crucis that parades throughout the town.

Typical dishes of Matera

The typical product of Matera par excellence is bread: made with local re-milled durum wheat semolina, brewer's yeast, sourdough, water and salt. Its peculiarity is that it manages to remain crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, retaining the original taste even after 5 or 6 days. A very funny curiosity is that this bread has often caused numerous rivalries with the neighboring town of Altamura. Both cities, in fact, give their name to their typical bread, bread made with almost the same ingredients, but both boast of having the best bread. It's up to you to decide the winner!
Another extremely common ingredient in the Matera area is peperoni cruschi, a particular variety of local sweet peppers which are generally dried in the sun and then fried. A delicacy!
Furthermore, in the Matera area, cialledde are very often cooked, made with stale and cooked bread, enriched with simple flavors such as peppers and vegetables which make it particularly good. A single and poor dish, but very rich in taste.

Eating and drinking in Matera

Among the many restaurants in the center of Matera, we recommend some that are worth visiting:
Burro Salato Bistrot Crepes Et Galettes, in Rocco Scotellaro street, 7. A well-maintained and furnished place is the setting for a bistro full of traditional dishes revisited and rich in flavor. Traditional cuisine is then accompanied by refined French cuisine, allowing the diner to choose what is most to his taste.
Il Rusticone, in San Biagio street, 5. An ideal place for a quick meal where you can enjoy excellent street food. Thanks to the quality raw materials and traditional ingredients, at Rusticone you can delight your palate between one excursion and another.
A Baracca, in Adriano Olivetti street. Are you a lover of grilled meat? Do you dream of going to Brazil but haven't had the chance yet? The “A Baracca” restaurant is the one for you! Thanks to its style and furnishings you will feel teleported to Rio de Janeiro to taste the best grilled meat in the world. The proof is in the pudding!

So, what are you waiting for? Get your things ready and off you go!