A primordial city born in the rock
Matera is also known as the city of the “Sassi” (of the rocks) precisely due to the peculiarity and uniqueness of its historic centre. Excavations and architectural adaptations make this town a magical and superb site, so it has been included since 1993 as a UNESCO heritage property.
Matera’s origins are very remote, as evidenced by the discovery in the surrounding area of a number of seamless settlements.
The city of stone, Matera’s historic centre carved out of a rocky overhang, has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. Artefacts dating back to the 13th millennium BCE have been found in the area. Many houses that descend deep into the ravine’s limestone have been inhabited without interruption since the Bronze Age (3000 BCE – 1000 BCE). The inhabitants have handed down the use of the rock and exploited its friability to their advantage creating a complex system of water canalization, conducted in a widespread network of cisterns.
Moreover, several objects found in the caves spread along the Gravine of Matera testify the presence of groups of hunters.
With time, settlements became more stable. Today we inherit clear traces of several entrenched villages, particularly on the Murgia Timone, a hill positioned in front of the city core. The first urban core, that of present-day “Civita”, was then established on the eastern side of the town. Rising on an entrenched prehistoric village, the first urban planning has probable Greek origins.
In the Magna Graecia period, Matera had close relations with the colonies and cities located on the southern coast, and later in the Roman period, it was only a centre of passage and supply.
In 664 CE, Matera came under Lombard’s rule and was annexed to the Duchy of Benevento. The 9th and 10th centuries were characterised by bitter struggles between the Lombards themselves, the Saracens and the Byzantines, who tried several times to seize the territory. The city suffered severe damage from the troops of Ludwig II, emperor of the Franks, precisely in an attempt to drive out the Saracens who garrisoned the area.
Every kingdom has left traces, making the “Sassi of Matera” a unique urban settlement of various civilisations and anthropisation that have occurred over time.
The suburb contains finishes and features from countless historical periods, such as prehistorical rock carvings, Norman fortifications, Renaissance expansions, and Baroque urban arrangements.
Noteworthy, Matera was probably the first city in Southern Italy to rise up against the Nazis. On September 21, 1943, the people of Matera stood against the oppression exercised by the Nazi occupation. Eleven people found their deaths as a result of retreating German machine gunfire. The day reached its climax with the vicious Nazi reprisal that cost the lives of 15 other people, both civilians and military, blown up in the “militia building”.
In the postwar period, with economic development, importance and value were slowly placed on the incredible character of the city. In 1993, thanks to its unique shapes, Matera was included in the list of World Heritage Sites.
Today it is a popular destination for many visitors intent on exploring this rocky gem.