Friday, 26 May 2017

The 9,000 year old town of Matera

I have known about Matera for a long time, but when Andrew Graham-Dixon, Art Historian, and Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli went there for their TV programme 'Italy Unpacked' I decided that it was somewhere that I too would like to visit.  
The settlement goes back to palaeolithic times and occupies a picturesque location on rocks above a deep gorge. 
The town has featured in several biblical films - King David with Richard Gere, Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ, Catherine Hardwicke's The Nativity Story, Timur Bekmambetov's Ben Hur - the architecture and dramatic landscape in the gorge create the perfect backdrop.
Matera declined in influence under the Greeks, and was destroyed by the Franks in 867, but it was rebuilt in the early c11th under the rule of Byzantium. An interesting fact for us was that during the c6th followers of Saint Basil, the Bishop of Caesarea and Cappadocia arrived in Matera fleeing from iconoclastic persecutions. They bought with them Greek religious rites and a community life that revolved around living in underground caves in a very similar manner to their previous existence in Cappadocia, Asia Minor, now Turkey.
The town consists of an attractive upper district and the silent lower Sassi (cave) district where people once occupied dwellings scooped out of the soft rock. Some of 130 rock churches were eventually occupied during the c15th by local people. Even up until the 1960s families of 8 or 10 together with their animals were still living in cave homes without any sanitation.
In his memoire 'Christ stopped at Eboli', Carlo Levi drew attention to the living conditions of the people of Matera, comparing the Sassi (cave) district to Dante's Inferno.
Matera has been continuously inhabited for over 9,000 years exceeded only by Aleppo and Jericho.
Four hundred years ago everyone in Matera, rich and poor, peasants and aristocrats, all lived in caves. 
The rich had grand facades, fashionable porticos, and ornate doorways which led into cavernous rooms hollowed out from the rocks
By the 18th century, the middle classes were moving out to build a new “upper” town of elegant palaces and piazzas. 
The fa├žade of one of Matera's churches, San Francesca, pays understated homage to 'Lecce Baroque'.
The city of Lecce - the Florence of the south, gives its name to what is called 'Barocco leccese'. It is unlike baroque seen anywhere else being exhuberant, fun, covered in putti, flowers, symbols and lots of hiddden messages - a visit to Lecce will be forthcoming
As the day draws to a close, and we drive onwards to our next destination, we take a final look back from the far side of the gorge to Matera's cathedral - a splendid c13th Apulian Romanesque style building dedicated to the Madonna della Bruna and St. Eustace.

40 comments:

  1. I have never heard of Matura, but what an absolutely fascinating and beautiful city you have shown. I also feel that I have seen it in a couple of those movies, the gorge looking a little familiar. How incredible that the cave dwelling people have been there for 9,000 years. Matura must be a good location for a civilised town, and the architecture is gorgeous.

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    1. Loved Matera Patricia - it was very hot climbing up and down the many steps though which must keep the older Italian ladies that live there very fit. Being the third longest inhabited town in the world you would think that more of us would know about it, but did you know that Aleppo was the oldest in the world. Of course, Aleppo has now come to our attention because of the awful atrocities committed there.

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  2. How truly fascinating Rosemary.
    I too have never heard of the place.

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    1. I suspect that now you have seen and heard about it you will come across it again Margaret. I always find that happens once I know about a place.

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  3. Stumbled in from Pinterest, of all places, linking to thatched roofs. What a wonderful blog! I loved this history of Matera.

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    1. Thank you for visiting and pleased that you enjoyed reading the history of Matera - it is a great place to visit.

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  4. Dear Rosemary, Your beautiful photographs take me back to a time when we drove through this region mostly because we wanted to visit Alberobello and found instead many more fascinating places along the way.

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    1. Dear Gina - glad that this is taking you back in time to your own visit - there will actually be a post from Alberobello too.

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  5. Never visited this part of Italy, how fascinating.

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    1. It is well worth considering visiting the south of Italy.

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  6. It is a truly a fascinating city. I think I recognize parts of it because of the films you mentioned. Especially from the second photo.
    I love architecture that looks like it grew up out of the ground. In other words, it is not in conflict with with nature or it's natural surroundings.

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    1. I like your observations Catherine especially that the architecture looks as if it grew up out of the ground.

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  7. Hello Rosemary, There is something especially exotic about cities constructed completely from stone--at least to one who grew up in an area where practically every building was made of wood. Even in the older city sections (which I rarely went to), except for the grander churches and a few banks and civic buildings, very little was of actual stone construction.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - the stone in this area of Italy feels like homeground to me - it is a honey/cream limestone and remarkably similar to the stone used in the area where I live.

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  8. Interesting post and just beautiful pictures Rosemary!
    Have a great weekend, take care...
    Titti

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    1. Thanks Titti - so pleased that you found it an interesting post - hope you are getting the lovely hot weather in Sweden.

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  9. I'm very tempted to visit. I keep getting sent offers from a lovely looking hotel there, in the very old part of the town. One of these days we shall succumb, especially having now seen your post!

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    1. We didn't actually stay there as we were on our way to a hotel beside the sea, but I do know that there are some very interesting cave hotels in Matera. We stayed in a cave hotel in Cappadocia and it was a memorable experience with wonderful rugs and interesting artifacts from antiquity hung on the walls.

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  10. Enjoyed Francesco da Mosto's Italy Top to Toe last year and Matera was a real highlight in that travel programme. Nice to see it's fully restored now from a slum with children begging in the lanes and caves for medicines after a virus swept through it post Second World War right up into the 1960s (Italy's great shame)but now transformed and rescued as a top tourist destination instead. Even Harlem in New York is now too upmarket for any poor people to live there with house prices spiraling and traditional residents moving out- the fate of any slum eventually :o)
    Great set of photos.

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    1. I didn't see that series but did see Francesco's Venice programmes - he lives in the most glorious Palazzo in Venice and what a debonaire character he is.
      Matera has a way to go before it becomes like northern Italy - by 2.00pm we had the town almost to ourselves - now is time to get there before the throngs will their selfie sticks arrive.

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  11. Matera is an absolute MUST see , and though I have lived in Italy for around 35 years I still have to see it !

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    1. Get down there quick Jane before the hoards arrive.

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  12. WOW! Matera looks beautiful and the view. I would love to go there sometime!!
    Becky x

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    1. So lovely to hear from you Becky - glad you enjoyed seeing this post on Matera, we both had a great time in southern Italy♡

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    2. Are you visiting any new places soon? :))

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    3. No, we are still recovering from this trip - it takes us much longer to get over lots of travelling these days.

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  13. Wauu ... what a spectacular place. Thanks for sharing. These photos are so lovely.

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  14. How awe-inspiring Matera is! I really like the colors of the region, the unique cave-dwellings, and its exotic feel. No wonder that it is one of the most popular tourists destinations. Thanks for sharing, Rosemary.

    Yoko

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    1. I have wanted to visit Matera for a long time and I am happy that it lived up to my expectations.

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  15. Must absolutely pay a visit one day!

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  16. Dearest Rosemary,
    Together with my husband we read this incredible post and I also shared it with my dear friend who grew up in the South of Italy, born in the U.S. but living with her Grandmother for a while.
    Matera is such a rich cultural witness to ancient times!
    Fabulous area for all those biblical movies.
    But also sad to know that up into the 60s families lived under such poor conditions without any sanitation.
    It humbles us, when visiting places like that and makes us return to our own home place with gratitude!
    Thanks for sharing your fabulous photos with your readers and sending you hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Dear Mariette - thank you for showing such an interest in this post on Materea - it is a place that will remain with me forever. It is incredible that they were still living in such conditions up until 60 years ago, but even at that time many of them were reluctant to give up the life that they were used to and move into modern appartments. The people of Matera still have to this day a very strong sense of their own unique identity and also still speak in a dialect which is not understood easily even by Italians.

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    2. Dearest Rosemary, indeed the human race has always been oh so reluctant to 'change'...

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  17. That looks a very striking city, you introduces us to so many wonderful places. Sarah x

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