Published On: Thu, Sep 14th, 2023

Explore The Extraordinary Cave Dwellings Of Sassi Di Matera

When seeking a unique attraction in southern Italy, the Sassi di Matera should instantly come to mind. Located in Basilicata, this unusual landscape could be mistaken for the Holy Land, and, in fact, was used as a film set for Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. 

However, what make this landscape so unique and fascinating are the cave homes and ancient buildings on the hillside and the fascinating underground churches. Read on to find out more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site and what it offers travelers.

“Sextantio | Le Grotte della Civita | Albergo Diffuso” on Facebook

Matera, Italy and the troglodyte caves

When exploring the Basilicata region on a luxurious tour of Italy, the town of Matera is a unique and fascinating visit. Matera is renowned for its historic buildings in the town itself, but this Italian destination offers much more. In fact, the canyon’s walls are dotted with a honeycomb of caves, dug out some 9,000 years ago. The caves were originally home to the Paleolithic people and for a while, were the shame of modern Italy.

This best example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean was once the slum of Matera where the poor lived in squalor and filth. Moreover, in Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, occupants had no sanitation or electricity and illness was rife here.

However, back in 1952, local authorities decided to do something about the slum caves and relocated 20,000 residents into modern buildings in the town. From that point on, the Sassi stood abandoned and empty for quite some time.

In the late 1960s, hippies took over Matera’s caves in an effort to make a home and thanks to this, everything changed. The caves were given a new lease of life when authorities connected them to the town’s utility services. Initially, one cave was turned into a unique art gallery, while another was converted into a small café. Soon after this happened, the Sassi were occupied by a community of writers and artists.

Image by mts163 from Pixabay

Sassi di Matera declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site

It was in 1993 that the hillside town caught the interest of UNESCO, who declared the Sassi a World Heritage Site. By this stage, what was once a filthy slum was now considered to be a chic location. From that time on, some of the caves were transformed into comfortable homes and restaurants, while others became unique boutique hotels, like Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita

Image:  sextantio-le-grotte-della-civita.jpg from Sextantio | Le Grotte della Civita | Albergo Diffuso on Facebook

While this hotel is considered to be luxurious, guests should bear in mind that the property has no pool. Meanwhile, the rooms have little in the way of modern amenities; there are no TVs, minibars or phones. However, the chance to sleep in a former troglodyte home with the original décor is a wonderful experience and the beds are comfy. Moreover, while the hotel has a reception area and a restaurant, the guest caves are dotted over the hillside as a form of community. 

If anyone feels that a stay in a cave would be claustrophobic, the town of Matera offers a wide variety of “normal” hotels, restaurants and bars. The town is also a fascinating visit, with no cars and no roads and navigated by many carved stone steps. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes while exploring this unique location and sleep in comfort in a former troglodyte cave.

Author: Anne Sewell

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