The Archaeological and Historical Natural Park of the Rock Churches of Materano, also called Parco della Murgia Materana (Murgia Park), includes a territory of about 8,000 hectares. The park surrounds the city of Matera and runs alongside the Sassi extending on the opposite side of the canyon excavated over time by the Gravina of Matera.
The landscape of the Murgia Park is one of the most evocative and spectacular among the rock landscapes in the world and part of the territory, together with the Sassi of Matera, was included in 1993 in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
The Sassi are basically the urban nucleus that developed in the most hospitable side of this territory, favored by the presence on the western side of a more friable and easier rock to dig for human settlements.
The Murgia Park consists of different morphological systems, first of all the fluvial one of the Gravina of Matera which for 20 kilometers runs through the center of the canyon until it joins the Bradano river in the Montescaglioso territory. On the sides there are steep high slopes whose maximum height above sea level slightly exceeds 500 meters.
The morphology of the park territory consists of valleys, small valleys, ravines, with a series of terraces and plains in the upper parts where there are a large number of species of botanical and faunal interest. Depending on the location, the geological morphology, the park presents a remarkable alternation of landscapes characterized by woods, dense Mediterranean scrub and areas where man has been conducting agricultural practices typical of the Murgian environment for centuries, testified by the presence of a large number of farms.
Visit the Park
The Murgia Materana Park is a highly recommended place as part of a the visit of Matera with many sites where you can go to live this experience.
From the Sassi of Matera
It is possible to get to the park directly from the Sassi di Matera using a dedicated path that starts from Porta Pistola, a large square overlooking the Gravina of Matera in the Sasso Caveoso. From here the path leads down to a walkway that allows you to overcome the watercourse and get to the opposite side of the canyon and go up to the Murgia Timone viewpoint.
The belvedere of the park
Among the most visited places is the park lookout located on Murgia Timone in front of the Sassi di Matera, from here the rocky landscape offers itself in all its spectacular beauty. The belvedere is easily accessible by car along the S.S. 7 (via Appia) that connects Matera to Laterza with the indicated exit. Going up the road that leads from the state road to the belvedere there are the rock complexes of S. Nicola at via Appia, of Murgia Tre Ponti and on the plane the complex with the rock church of San Falcione. Arriving on the belvedere, immediately below are the rupestrian church of Madonna delle Tre Porte, and that of S. Agnese.
On the plane of Murgia Timone you can make excursions and visit the eastern side of the Gravina di Matera (Belvedere path), the Neolithic villages of Murgia Timone, the rock church of Madonna delle Croci, an excursion that takes longer and for which it is recommended a guide.
In the Palomba district located at the north-east entrance of Matera, you are in an area with a widespread presence of large tuff quarries. Among the places not to be missed you can freely visit the Palomba Sculpture Park, consisting of a large quarry and a series of environments characteristic of the fascinating Murgia of Matera. Here the artist Antonio Paradiso created an extraordinary place by merging the rock landscape with his works, some gigantic in stone and iron.
Next to the Sculpture Park you can get to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Palomba, one of the great Marian sanctuaries of the Matera area located at the top of a large rock complex overlooking the Gravina of Matera.
Among the most beautiful and rich in history places of the Murgia Park, it can always be reached from S.S. 7 (via Appia) with entrance next to the Palomba Sanctuary. It is a vast area that contains some of the most beautiful and interesting evidence of the primordial settlement of man in the Matera area. There is a Neolithic village investigated in the early 1900s by Domenico Ridola, a necropolis from the Bronze Age, and several cave complexes that testify to the importance of the place from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages.
Park featuresRock complexes
The Murgia Park contains a large number of rock complexes that characterize its cultural landscape, testifying to human settlements from prehistory until the second to the modern age. After the Middle Ages, these complexes or cave farmhouses were mainly used as places for the shelter of animals in pastoralism practices.
Besides those mentioned in the most accessible places of Murgia Timone, Murgecchia and Contrada Palomba, the most important complexes are located south of the city of Matera where the park extends to the territory of the neighboring municipality of Montescaglioso. To the south east are the complexes of the Agna district where the famous Cave of Bats is located, the finds of which are exhibited at the Ridola National Museum, the Ofra complex, the Santissimo Crocifisso alla Selva (known as Cristo la Selva), the Saraceno Village, the complexes of Murgia S. Andrea in the countryside of Montescaglioso.
To the south along the Gravina di Picciano there are many other complexes such as those of Santa Lucia al Bradano, and above all that of the Crypt of the Original Sin, whose paintings dating back to the Lombard era are of exceptional historical and cultural value.
Geology of the Park
Particularly interesting is the geological history of the Murgia Materana which will determine human settlements according to the presence of a certain type of rock. Originally the rocks of the park were formed due to the phenomena of subsidence and tectonic lifts in a span of time ranging from 7 to 2 million years ago (Pliocene). Subsequently during the Pleistocene the presence of the sea created two similar types of rock by sedimentation: a lower and deeper layer a few hundred meters harder called Limestone of Altamura, and a more friable upper layer called Limestone of Gravina (tufa). These two types of rock have the same chemical composition but a different granulometric structure.
The presence of the calcarenite layer has been crucial for man’s ability to settle in this environment since the Palaeolithic era. From the natural caves that appeared with the retreat of the sea over the millennia, more and more complex and evolved rock habitats have been obtained that in the western side gave origin to the city of Matera with the Sassi.