Basilicata - Places to Visit - Matera
This town stands 401 m. above sea level, on the west side of the Murge. It is divided into an ancient part (called I Sassi), clinging to the side of a deep gorge gouged out by the Gravina di Matera torrent and a modern town extending over the plain above.
Though there have always been human settlements here since Neolithic times, its origins are historically uncertain; under the Lombards in the Duchy of Benevento, it reached a certain importance.
Later it lived through troubled times, when it was first devasted by the Franks, then (876) by Emperor Ludovic II and finally by the Saracens.
In the 11th century, Matera was conquered by the Normans and from then, on it shared the vicissitudes of the Kingdom of Sicily (then of Naples and of the Two Sicilies), though on several occasions becoming the fief of powerful overlords. In 1860 it was annexed to Italy.
Matera's major attraction is certainly I Sassi (Sasso Barisano to the north, Sasso Caveoso to the south), an agglomeration of almost completely abandoned dwellings, hewn from the soft rock of the Gravina torrent valley.
It is a peculiar settlement, consisting of tiny houses packed together, steep narrow streets, and small squares, dating back to the 8th century, when some monks persecuted by Emperor Leone II the Isaurico settled here, later followed by the surrounding rural populations.
Apart from the inherent charm of this unique place, this part of the town has nearly 120 little rupestrian churches, some beautifully decorated with medieval frescoes.
Other monuments include: the Duomo (Cathedral in Romanesque-Apulian style, 12th century), the church of S. Francesco d'Assisi (13th-17th century), the church of S. Maria de Idris (hewn from the rock), the church of S. Giovanni Battista (13th century, with 17th century alterations), the Castello Tramontano (Castle, 15th century), Palazzo Lanfranchi (17th century) and many other stately homes.
Three kilometres outside the town lies the Grotta dei Pipistrelli (Cave of the bats).
The economy: Traditionally an agricultural and commercial centre, in recent decades Matera has undergone some industrialization, linked to State development plans for the Basento Valley. Thus today, some usually small companies, are present in the foodstuff, engineering, building materials and furniture sectors. Public employment is important, while tourism too has begun to increase. There are typical crafts (papermaking and terracottas).
Events: Festa della Bruna (2nd July, folk festival introduced in 1380).
Famous People: Egidio Duni (musician, 1708-1775), Tommaso Stigliani (poet, 1573-1651), Domenico Ridola (paleoethnologist, 1841-1932), Giuseppe de Robertis (literary critic, 1888-1963).
Cultural Institutions: Archivio di Stato (State Archives), Biblioteca provinciale (Library), Museo Nazionale `Ridola' (National archaeological and paleoethnological Museum), Pinacoteca `D'Errico' (Art Gallery), Conservatory.
In the Province: Ferrandina (industrial centre), Aliano (environmental interest), Pisticci (agricultural and industrial centre), Grassano (wood crafts), San Giorgio Lucano (terracottas), Metaponto (Antiquarium and archaeological site), Irsina (M. Ianora Archaeological Museum), Policoro (National Museum of the Siritide).