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.

What to see in Matera?

The origins

  • Casa Noha
  • Sasso Caveoso

A voyage through kingdoms and various ages

  • Crypt of original sin
  • Matera Cathedral

Contemporary times

  • MOOM (Matera Olive Oil Museum)
  • “Museo Immersivo della Bruna”

The origins

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.

1. Casa Noha

(Gorup de Besanez, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
(Gorup de Besanez, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
Casa Noha is a 25-minute multimedia exhibition inside a 16th-century family home that describes the history of the town and the Sassi of Matera. Casa Noha is an excellent starting point for a visit to Matera. For this reason, it is a suggested and quick stop to better blend with the place and bond with such unique destination.

2. Sasso Caveoso

Step into Paleolithic cave dwellings and charming old town Italy to discover and meditate on importand antropologichal and social aspect of Matera. Visitors undertake a breathtaking stroll through history by exploring a rock-hewn church, wandering ancient caves, and sampling some local delicacies. This place is definitely a concentrate of history, art and tradition.

A voyage through kingdoms

In 664 CE Matera came under Lombard rule and was annexed to the Duchy of Benevento. The 9th and 10th centuries were characterized 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.

3. Crypt of original sin

Known as the Sistine Chapel of cave art, the Crypt of Original Sin houses 9th-century CE frescoes and is one of the most enchanting cave churches in Matera. Step back in time at the Crypt of the Original Sin, and experience a natural cave adorned with stunning biblical frescoes. If you are in Matera you can’t miss it!

4. Matera Cathedral

Inside of the cathedral (Diego Baglieri, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
Inside of the cathedral (Diego Baglieri, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

The cathedral was built in Apulian Romanesque style in the 13th century CE on the highest spur of the Civita that divides the two Sassi, or two main districts of the city's ancient core. Erected on the site of an earlier Norman castle and as recent excavations on an earlier early Christian place of worship attest, it is the most majestic cathedral in the region.

Contemporary times

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.

5. MOOM (Matera Olive Oil Museum)

MOOM is a museum of olive oil production rooting back to ancient traditions in Matera. The spaces of the building offer the uniqueness of being carved out of tuff and are presumed to date back to the 16th century CE. In a very special atmosphere, it is possible to discover an exceptional product that has been cultivated in the surrounding areas for millennia. The olive and its derivative oil are symbols of prosperity that have enabled life and trade throughout the Mediterranean.

“6. Museo Immersivo della Bruna”

(Matteomarchitelli, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
(Matteomarchitelli, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Museo Immersivo Della Bruna is a museum dedicated to the centuries-old feast of the Madonna Della Bruna, the city's patron saint. It is located in Matera, Italy, roughly a six-minute walk from Sassi di Matera. This multimedia trail has its origins in local tradition with legends, stories and tales. The installation includes explanatory panels and visitors can learn about the city's centuries-old feast dedicated to its patron saint, the Madonna Della Bruna.