The Sassi of Matera, declared World Heritage Site in 1993 by UNESCO, are a unique place with extraordinary charm that tell how man has lived for millennia in a fairytale environment: the rocky context that characterizes both the 32 hectares where the urban nucleus of the Sassi is divided into the whole surrounding area, largely protected by the Archaeological and Historical Natural Park of the Rock Churches of Matera.
The Sassi of Matera are connected with the current historic center of the city which is located on the plane through numerous entrances that create a continuous exchange between these two urban environments. To access the Sassi, just take one of the numerous streets or alleys that descend from the city center to the ancient districts. Matera, in addition to the Sassi, offers numerous places of great cultural, historical and environmental value that deserve a visit both in the city and in the surrounding area, including: the Crypt of the Original Sin, the Palomba Sculpture Park, the Oasis of San Giuliano and the Murgia Park.
Visitare i Sassi di MateraThe Sassi of Matera offer to the visitors a great cultural landscape, the reason for their inclusion on the list of UNESCO sites. Architecturally they present an incredible series of elements that have stratified over time, from the cave complexes excavated by man, to the rock churches, burial areas, which alternate continuously with buildings of all the different eras of the last millennium, Middle Ages, Renaissance, baroque until modern times. Caves, hypogea, palaces, churches, neighborhoods, stairways, balconies, gardens and orchards will all be found in one another to form a unique and magical place.
Walking along the main axis that connects the two Sassi districts via Bruno Buozzi, via Madonna delle Virtù and via D’Addozio you can cross this landscape and admire at the same time that of the opposite side of the Murgia Materana. It is possible to go up and down from the numerous alleys that alternate between the buildings and find themselves in always different and surprising corners.
The rock churches in the Sassi of Matera
Particularly interesting are the rock churches that can be visited in the Sassi of Matera which represent places where the evolutionary passage of man from prehistory to Christianity is concretely witnessed.
The rock churches are in fact in places of particular importance and in all probability they were already places of worship in the rock civilizations that preceded the Christian one.
The most important and visited rock churches are:
Santa Maria de Idris - San Giovanni in Monterrone
The Church of Santa Maria De Idris is located inside the Monterrone rocky outcrop overlooking Sasso Caveoso, near the Church of San Pietro Caveoso and the square of the same name. The location is wonderful and offers a unique view over the city and the Gravina. The church of Santa Maria de Idris dates back to the 14th century and is part of a cave complex which also includes the oldest crypt dedicated to San Giovanni in Monterrone. This crypt is important for the frescoes that
preserved and ranging from the twelfth to the seventeenth century. The two churches are communicating.
Santa Lucia alle Malve
The Rock Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve is located near the previous S. Maria de Idris in the Malve district.
It is the first female monastic settlement of the Benedictine order, dating back to the eighth century, and the most important in the history of Matera. The external front of the former monastic complex develops along the rocky wall with a series of entrances that lead to as many internal cavities. The environments of the community are identified by its presence, sculpted in relief at the top, by the symbolism of the martyrdom of Saint Lucia: the chalice with the two eyes of the Saint. Inside there are some of the most beautiful and important wall paintings in the Matera area.
San Pietro Barisano
It is located in the Sasso Barisano, originally called San Pietro de Veteribus, it is the largest cave church in the city of Matera. Archaeological investigations have made it possible to identify the first rock plant, dating back to the XII - XIII century, below the floor. With a first expansion intervention between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the excavation of the church was deepened and the side chapels were built. Of these interventions, only the terminal part of the chapel located behind the second altar of the right nave with the frescoes of St. Catherine of Alexandria, of the Annunciation, of San Canio, St. Augustine, St. Eustace and St. Vitus remains.
The historic center of MateraThe current historic center of Matera is located on a plateau that delimits the Sassi of Matera at the top. Here too the city shows its different levels stratified over time. In fact in the central square Vittorio Veneto there are some openings that show the original level of the places today called hypogea which are located immediately below the square. The hypogea articulate continuously forming a real submerged city. Here there are exceptional structures such as the large cistern called Palombaro Lungo with walls 15 meters high and until recently navigable.
In the historic center of Matera there are several squares along an axis called the eighteenth-century axis of the city because it took its physiognomy starting from the end of the 1600s. In the center of Matera there are a series of important palaces and churches that have had a particular importance during of city history.
In Piazza Vittorio Veneto dominates the large Annunziata Palace, the former convent that currently houses the Provincial Library.
Opposite the large palace of the Prefecture, the Church of San Domenico, the Church of the Knights of Malta.
In the middle of the square there are 4 large openings delimit the hypogea where there is also the large cistern of Palombaro Lungo, and the rock church of S. Spirito dating back to the 10th century.
A short distance away there is another former convent that of S. Lucia at the fountain that divides the eighteenth-century church of the same name on the right and the Ferdinandea fountain on the left.
Continuing on, you reach Piazza S. Francesco d’Assisi where the seventeenth-century church of the same name is imposing.
Here too there are hypogea which testify under the square the original level of the places.
To the right of the square you enter via Ridola, dedicated to Domenico Ridola for his studies and research on the archaeological past of the city. On the left, instead, there is Piazza del Sedile, seat of the Conservatory, formerly Palazzo di Città and seat of the Municipality of Matera, from here all the most important noble palaces that from the square through the narrow Via Duomo come to surround the Cathedral of Matera.
From Piazza del Sedile going up via Duomo you arrive at the Cathedral dating back to 1270 flanked by a majestic bell tower that dominates the whole landscape of the city. The Cathedral has a Romanesque-Apulian style, but is characterized by unique and highly valuable artistic elements and elements both inside and outside.
Around the Cathedral there are the palaces of families with noble titles who lived there such as Palazzo Gattini (Gattini Counts), Palazzo Venusio (The Marquises of Venusio), Palazzo Malvinni Malvezzi (Dukes Malvinni Malvezzi), families who had large possessions beyond these huge palaces in the territories of the murgia and the Matera countryside. These palaces were erected in order to constitute defense garrisons of the mother church.
Continuing on the right from Piazza S. Francesco, you enter Via Ridola where the Church of Purgatory is immediately found. On the right side is the Domenico Ridola National Museum where the finds of archaeological research conducted by Ridola himself in the Matera area are largely exposed.
At the end of the street is Piazzetta Pascoli bordered by another large building, Palazzo Lanfranchi, now home to the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata. On the left a belvedere overlooking Sasso Caveoso with the rocky spur of Monterrone in the center where the rock churches of S. Maria de Idris and S. Giovanni in Monterrone are located.