Exploring Matera and the Sassi

From “the shame of Italy” to European Capital of Culture 2019

Ciao Belli!

How are you?

Today we are in Basilicata region and we are going to discover Matera famous for the “Sassi” houses carved like caves!

In the 50s was named “The shame of Italy” -read below- while in 2019 was named European Capital of Culture! A great “revenge” isn’t?

Are you ready?


What are the “Sassi”?

The Sassi basically are houses carved in the slop of the hill through the centuries.

And with the leftover material, locals were able to build extra rooms attached to the slop of the hill itself. In this way the roof of one house became the pavement of the upper one, passageways were built on top of the buildings while staircases connected different level of the Sassi in a kind of crazy 3d puzzle.

Because of the ancient primaeval-looking in and around the Sassi, Matera has been used by filmmakers as the setting for many movies especially as scenery for ancient Jerusalem. It looks like a Nativity!

The following famous biblical motion pictures were filmed in Matera:

• Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

• Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004)

• Abel Ferrara’s Mary (2005)

• Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story (2006)

• Garth Davis’s Mary Magdalene (2018)

Other movies filmed in the city include:

• Alberto Lattuada’s La lupa (1953)

• Roberto Rossellini’s Garibaldi (1961)

• Nanni Loy’s Made in Italy (1965)

• Francesco Rosi’s More Than a Miracle (1967)

• Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Allonsanfàn (1974)

• Fernando Arrabal’s The Tree of Guernica (1975)

• Carlo Di Palma’s Qui comincia l’avventura (1975)

• Francesco Rosi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979)

• Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Star Maker (1995)

• Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman (2017)

• Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die (2020)

The transformation of Matera

In 1935, during WWII, Carlo Levi a doctor from Turin in the North of Italy was exiled to Basilicata region (aka Lucania) due to his anti-fascist beliefs. During that timeframe he wrote a book called “Christ Stopped at Eboli”, focused on the hard living conditions of the inhabitant of the region.

After WWII, the publishing of the book and the consequent shock of public opinion, the Italian politician Palmiro Togliatti visited Matera. Because of the people living in the Sassi in precarious hygienic conditions, without water, toilets, all together even with animals, he defined Matera “The shame of Italy”.

Evacuated from 1952, the population was relocated to modern housing and the Sassi (Italian for stones) lay abandoned until the 1980s. Renewed vision and investment led to the cave dwellings becoming a noted historic tourism destination with hotels, small museums and restaurants – and a vibrant arts community.

Best delicacies to eat in Matera

Matera is also a gourmet paradise with excellent delicacies among which I would suggest: Crapiata, an old-style cereal soup, perfect on the coldest days.

Lagane, a fresh pasta similar to tick tagliatelle.

The cialledda, a mixture of wet bread, tomato, cucumber, peppers and olive oil. Great in summer time! Many dishes based on lamb.

The crunchy, tasty peperoni cruschi – dried sweet peppers- one leads to a dozen! And then the bread of Matera, the emblem of local gastronomy. A glass of red local wine, Aglianico del Vulture, will be the perfect pair for your dish!

Enjoy Matera! Watch my video!

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