The drive to Matera was largely uneventful apart from me having an argument with the petrol vending machine. We arrived in Matera pretty much on schedule and found our way to the accommodation which is at one end of the Sassi.

The Sassi, Italian for stones or rocks, is an area of Matera where people have lived for 1000’s of years. They believe that people have lived here permanently for over 4000 years, and we the first people to settle in the south of Italy. The original inhabitants dug caves into the soft rock of the hillside all around a valley that was created by a flowing river.
People lived here until 1952 when they were forcibly removed by the government of the day and placed it to public housing apartment buildings. The main reason for this is that there was no plumbing or services to these cave areas also people would live with their animals inside the caves and as such disease was common place.
Once the people were removed the area was abandoned for some time and began to fall apart. The original residents would maintain their buildings which decay due to the humidity in the caves. In order to keep these building in one piece, people need to live there and maintain the rock walls that make up the from part of the buildings. Only a small portion of each house is a cave, as the residents build new levels on top of and in front of their homes over time.
In the 80’s the government decided to try and save the Sassi and allowed people back in, under the proviso that services were put into each dwelling that was inhabited. They covered the open streams, that people used to use as a sewer and as drinking water, with roads with aqueducts underneath. Then they put in a major sewerage network along with fresh water access.
No one can buy a part of the Sassi, but anyone, even foreigners, can request a 30 or 99 year lease from the Italian government, provided they have the means (read: money) to renovate the building and connect to the sewer network. To assist the government will provide 50% of the cost of restoration and the adding of services, plumbing etc, however for the term of the lease no support is provided for the upkeep of the building.
This means that to live here you really have to be rich, or be earning an income from your property in some way. This is why there are so many B&Bs and restaurants in the Sassi area. We are staying in one of these which at one point would have just been a cave, however we didn’t actually stay in the cave part, but a lovely refurbished stone building made into accommodation.

We had two nights in Matera which allows us 1 full day to explore the area. To assist in this process we hired a guide for a few hours to show us around and explain some of what I’ve just spoken about and a whole lot more. He guide was great, very knowledgable. His Grand Father used to live in the Sassi and was lucky enough to not be removed as he was up close to the new town where services must have been available.
He took us at the tourist information centre where he left us and told us to pay them, as he was just a guide employed by them. We insisted on giving him a tip as he was an exceptionally good guide. At the tourist centre they had a small food tasting for us where we could try some local Matrea produce and wine.

We were at the other end of the Sassi now so we plotted a path back to our accommodation theat would allow us to take in some additional sights. On the way we stopped to have a bit more food as it was mid afternoon and we’d only had the brief snack at the tourist info place.
Arriving back at the cave we had some snacks and drinks on the balcony overlooking the Sassi and planned the drive to our next stop which is at Polignano a Mare, a little seaside town with access to some more sightseeing opportunities.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *