We’re standing in a trance-like state, perched on an elevated plateau. Our eyes scan the tumbling grey stone facade that envelopes us like a backdrop to a movie set. Below us, lies an eerie urban-landscape of some 1,500 cave dwellings that flank a steep ravine that descends deep below us.
There’s a reason why the movie The Passion of the Christ was filmed here. It’s hard not to gasp upon first seeing it for yourself – it evokes an image straight out of the Bible.
We’ve encountered more of Italy’s take-your-breath-away moments; Amalfi, Cinque Terre, Venice to name a few. But, and I stress the ‘but’, this couple had never seen anything like Matera.
Italy’s remote southern region of Basilicata is host to this medieval town, famous for its extensive cave-dwelling districts, known as the sassi. If you haven’t heard of Matera, you’re not alone. It’s only since the 1980’s has this historic city been on a rebound with word of mouth increasing its popularity as an off-the-beaten-track tourist destination. And in 1993 becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site has also helped to boost interest.
The best way to see Matera’s sassi, is to wander. Cars are not permitted in the city, so I’ll caution you now, you’ll do a lot of walking. Climbing up and down stairs are prerequisites to getting anywhere, so be prepared to give your Fitbit a workout.
Picturesque? Well that’s an understatement. If you’re a photo nut like I am, your camera will be in overdrive. It seems that everywhere you look begs to be photographed. A labyrinth of lanes, twisted alleys and stairways wind their way up and down through neighborhoods of cave dwellings now mostly occupied by B&B’s, luxury hotels, restaurants, boutique shops, museums and beautiful churches.
If Italy is on your bucket-list, I’d highly recommend you take a few days to discover this fascinating 15th century relic for yourself.
Photographs by Murray Sye: The top featured image was shot as the sun set over Sassi. All other images are a random collection shot in and around the surrounding areas of Matera.