A Birthday Trip to Italy: Part I – Matera
After a seven year absence from a visit to what is arguably the most beautiful landscapes in the world, it was decided that the birthday trip would be to Italy. Not the same old Italy that first time visitors and guide books direct travelers to, mind you, but something completely off the tourist grid. In just the past 30 years Matera, which was formed in the 3rd century BC, has been rediscovered, gentrified and added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Once inhabited by the very poorest of people, in the late 1950’s the Italian government forced the residents into the modern part of the city and boarded up the area called “Sassi di Matera” (“stones of Matera”). It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that this area of caves and stone buildings was reinvented with the help of a few major Hollywood movies using the area as a set, including Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004.
Matera is located in the very Southern part of Italy, near the “heal of the boot”. The region is called Basilicata and is arid and mostly barren with occasional towns dotting hilltops here and there. The Sassi in Materia was dug out of the soft, chalky rock found in the region.
Some of the area hotels are comprised of rooms made up of the caves that were carved in the stone thousands of years ago. We stayed at the Hotel Sassi in a 2-story cave that was modestly furnished with a double bed on a window of glass covering a cistern.
The room had heat but no air conditioning which wasn’t really needed this time of year. There was a mini-fridge, old CRT television, adequate bathroom and free Wi-Fi in the hotel lobby.
Sleeping in a cave thousands of years old was a truly unique experience and the twilight photo ops of the Sassi with its cathedral made the destination worth the 4.5 hour drive from Rome. Although the cathedral was under renovation so we could not enter it, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Matera and were anxious to head to our next destination, south of the Amalfi Coast.