Photo of Matera

Visit Matera

Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world and the oldest in Italy and Europe. The ancient part is the Sassi-di-Matera, an area of cave dwellings carved into the rock of two canyons of the River Gravina.

The Sassi-di-Matera is thought to have been first settled in Palaeolithic times, 10 000 years BC.

Explore Matera

Italy This Way review: The Sassi-di-Matera is a fascinating area and a real glimpse back in time. It is the highlight of a trip to Basilicata.

The Sassi-di-Matera have been inhabited by Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Bourbons and many more.


By the 1950s the Sassi-di-Matera was known as the "Shame of Italy" because of the extreme poverty, poor living conditions and terrible sanitation of the dwellings many of which were just one room dwellings.

In 1952 the inhabitants were evacuated and moved into modern homes on the plateau above and the 'Sassi' was abandoned.

In the 1980s a few of the wealthier inhabitants renovated some properties and moved back and by 1993 the area was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an 'outstanding example of a troglodyte settlement".

The Sassi has continued to be renovated and inhabited and is now a popular tourist destination with hotels, restaurants and a thriving arts community.

In 2019 Matera was declared a "European Capital of Culture".

The Sassi houses have been dug into the rock up the sides of the gorge with some streets built on the roofs of other houses

The town centre is built on the edge of a plateau above the gorge. The cathedral of Matera is here and a pleasant town centre. The cathedral is built in Romanesque style and has a 52 meter tall bell tower.

The interior is mostly Baroque but there is a recently discovered Byzantine style 14th century fresco of the Last Judgement.

Below the centre steep steps lead down to the cave houses cut into the sides of the gorge. Some of these are open for visits.


Amongst the dwellings are various 'rupestre' or rock churches created by Basilian monks fleeing persecution during the 8th and 9th centuries. Many of these are decorated with Byzantine frescoes.

The Madonna dell'Idris and the San Giovanni are two examples that you can visit. These are linked by a tunnel and contain Byzantine frescoes.

The San Pietro Caveoso is an attractive church built on top of the ravine in the Sasso Caveoso area and is a good one to visit as is the San Pietro Barisano in the Sasso Barisano area.

There are a number of small museums in Matera including the Museo Nazionale Ridola with historic artefacts from the area; the Palazzo Lanfranchi, home to a museum of medieval and modern art and the Centro Carlo Levi with works by him.

Carlo Levi was incacerated by the Nazis in Basilicata and wrote a book about his time here describing the poverty and harshness of life here. The book "Christ stopped at Eboli" shocked Italians, especially the descriptions of Matera. The book became a bestseller.

There is also a sculpture gallery 'MUSMA' in Matera with sculptures from the 19th century onwards.

The ancient streets and dwellings of the Sassi-di-Matera have been popular with film directors and many films have scenes filmed here. Notable among them are:

Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' 2004, Timur Bekmambetov's 'Ben Hur' 2016, John Moore's 'The Omen' 2006, Patty Jenkin's 'Wonder Woman' 2017, and Cary Joji Fukunaga's 'No Time to Die (James Bond)' 2021.


Attractions nearby

Another ancient settlement is Altamura which has a fine cathedral dating from the 13th century.

Martina-Franca is a hilltop town with charming piazzas and Baroque buildings.

You can find more local travel ideas in and the Basilicata guide.

See also Find Matera hotels

Photos of Matera

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Map of Matera and places to visit


Matera places to visit



Altamura is a historical town with a fine cathedral and reputedly the best bread in Italy.

Altamura guide


Martina-Franca is a pretty hilltop town with beautiful baroque buildings.

Martina-Franca guide


In Metaponto Archaeological Park and museum you can see Greek temples and artefacts from the 6th century BC

Metaponto guide


Largely unknown to tourism, Tricarico contains a good number of fascinating palazzos and churches

Tricarico guide


Pietrapertosa in the Lucanian Dolomites is a "most beautiful village of Italy".

Pietrapertosa guide


Bitonto is a pretty town with some important museums and archaeological sites.

Bitonto guide

...or see all our recommended places to visit in Basilicata