Matera, Among the World’s Oldest Cities with Cave Dwellings

Matera, City of Ancient Streets and Cultural Heritage

Matera is a city in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy. The city is perched atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the Gravina River, providing a stunning panorama of the surrounding countryside.

Matera is famed for karst landscapes with deep ravines, caves, and gorges.

The Gravina River shaped this city, carving limestone to create dramatic cliffs and valleys, enhancing its scenic charm.

Furthermore, Matera, with its historic center concentrated in the Sassi districts spread across the Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso, covers a relatively small area.

As of January 1, 2018, Matera’s population stands at 60,403.

The city offers ancient streets and caverns on foot, providing an experience of the rich cultural and historical tapestry this city offers.

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Living History in Stone Through Sassi Districts

Matera is most famous for its Sassi districts, an ancient network of cave dwellings carved into limestone rock.

As a result, prehistoric cave dwellings form a mesmerizing labyrinth weaving through the streets, alleys, and caverns.

The Sassi districts are divided into two main sections: Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso.

Sasso Barisano features a blend of ancient cave dwellings and later constructions, showcasing the gradual evolution of architectural styles over the centuries.

Narrow streets wind through the district, unveiling the intricate beauty of stone-carved homes and churches.

In Sasso Caveoso, visitors are transported to a time when Matera’s residents lived in humble abodes with minimalistic features.

Notable landmarks in the district include the Church of San Pietro Caveoso and the ancient cave church of Madonna delle Virtù.

The Cultural Heritage of Architecture in Matera

Matera is home to numerous historical landmarks that contribute to its rich cultural tapestry.

For example, some notable landmarks are Sassi Cave Dwellings, Cattedrale di Matera, Tramontano Castle, Palombaro Lungo and more.

The architecture reflects various historical periods, from Romanesque to Baroque, creating a captivating tapestry of styles.

The buildings are characterized by narrow alleyways, while others feature expansive courtyards.

The design of these buildings often emphasizes functionality and adaptability to the rugged terrain. Many are constructed using locally sourced limestone and other natural materials.

Buildings vary in length depending on their purpose and location within the city, with some spanning multiple stories, while others are built into the rocky cliffsides.

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From Ancient Roots to Modern Renaissance

Matera’s history spans millennia, with evidence of human habitation dating back to the Paleolithic era.

The cave dwellings, inhabited for millennia, make it one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities.

In the mid-20th century, Matera faced significant challenges due to poverty and unsanitary living conditions in the Sassi.

However, the city underwent a remarkable transformation in the 1980s, earning it the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today, Matera stands as a symbol of resilience and a testament to the successful marriage of preservation and progress.