The receiver said,’ This room’ was named Senza Nidd–no matter how poor the individuals who resided here were.’ In Matera, Southern Italy, our modest-sized hotel room once housed a whole family–not back in the Middle Ages, but in living memory. Matera, a troglodyte town in Basilicata, was regarded in the 1950s to be “the shame of Italy” due to extreme poverty and rampant disease in its ancient districts of Sassi. The inhabitants were forcibly relocated and the crumbling town, believed after Aleppo and Jericho to be potentially the third-oldest in the globe, lay empty for the first moment in 10,000 years.
Today, however, there are many tourists who would love to visit one of the two European cultural capitals of 2019 (the other being Plovdiv, Bulgaria). In investment started to shrink in late 1980s, but many of their offspring returned to open hotels and Restaurants, even though the families who were forced out were never returned. In 1993 Matera gained momentum and in 2004 Mel Gibson’s contentious Passion from the Christ became the site of a World Heritage site and a new site as Jerusalem. Filmmakers can’t really withstand this–No Time To Die (released next year) is the 25th Bond film that’s the recent blockbuster.
I visited Inntravel on a fresh break for Sassi and Trulli in order to learn what makes Matera so unique. It wasn’t long before it worked out–this town is like none else on this planet. The two neighborhoods Sassi (“stones”), Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, are constructed on the natural grounds excavated and stretched for thousands of years. Over the grottoes rises a warren of pale calcareous churches, cloisters, palaces and buildings balanced on the riverside. It’s amazing by day; it’s lit up at dusk and it can tear you.
The church of Rupestri or the rock shrines is one of Matera’s unmissable attractions. In the Park of the Rock churches across the river Gravina and those of the town, there are another 150, which you can reach by bicycle or by guided visit (our journey included bicycle hire). The Chiesa San Pietro Barisano from the twelfth century is the largest of its kind in the Sassi and has a rock-cut interior. In one of the sinister ‘ draining chairs’ in the crypt, my macabre partner, sat dead priests until their flesh had decayed.Santa Maria de Idris and Convicínio di Sant’Antonio are some of the other stand out rock churches. They sit on a rocky spur at a dramatic place. Over the Sassi range, over a steep tangle of alleys, rises the Cathedral of the 13th century.
The Palombaro Lungo, a enormous manmade water pond dug in the rock in the 16th century, is another top viewing point. It definitely has an impressive scale and naivety, but there is a lack of greatness in the Istanbul Cistern Basil, say. We discovered it more attractive to visit a house grotta–a few caverns, full of fixtures, fittings and animal model, were maintained as museums. We toured Casa Grotta del Barisano, which until 1960 has had no electricity or running water for a family of seven plus farmed livestock.
Matera is a capital of the globe of culture. It is made up of several rewarding museums, including the Archaeological Museum, a collection of Greek vessels of the quatth and fifth century, and the Musemia of Medieval and Modern Art, which contains works by Carlo Levi. The highlight was Musma, a modern sculpture museum, located in downstairs cellars and an above-surface palace of the 16th century.
In addition to exhibitions, concerts and workshops, outdoor performances and guided tours, the town’s artistic venues will host this year of culture. Five giant bronze reproductions of Salvador Dali, including a melting clock, are displayed around the town, and accompany a display in Dalí in the church of the Church of Madonna della Virtù and in the Church of San Nicola dei Greci.
Matera has a wealthy tradition of cooking. Restaurants display basil cuisine often known by the ancient name of the region as Lucanian cuisine. The cucina povera, with tiny quantities of meat and cheese, is dominated by grains, pulse and vegetables. Simple, inexpensive food is served in La Focagna, a cozy cava that is open until 2 a.m. We ate the crapiata, a delicious soup of bean served with toasty Matera bread, then the garlic cime di rapa (a brassica leafy).More up-to-date cave restaurants like Morgan can be discovered around and along Via Bruno Buozzi. A choice of ingredients included chicory mashed fava beans and wild boar sauce pappardelle. We ordered peperoni cruschs on one hand, which are very prized in these sun-dried red Senise peppers, and drank aglianico, Star grapes of Basilicata.
Our favorite spot for a afternoon pitstop was the café-thronged Piazzas del Sedile, which means a Campari spritz. I Due Sassi Café. Piazza Vittorio Veneto is the primary square in the “new” city of the 17th century. The main location for a passage and the views across the Sassi landscape are unbelievable. Later in the night, Della Birra Mosto Osteria is a vibrant beer bar or a local digestive amaro lucano. Area 8 is the hippest restaurant, a cocktail bar with live and film productions.
Matera’s hotels make use of its distinctive architecture like restaurants and bars. In Locanda di San Martino, a 40-room terraced hotel in central Sassi, we stayed in a straightforward cellar. Tremendous are the thermal baths under the hotel, which were constructed thousands of years ago from the rock in passages and cisterns. Also we stayed at Palazzo degli Abati for one night, where we have two cellar rooms and three in the Palace of the 18th century. Our space had walls of fossils two million years old.
Tourists in rural residences who throng to eat and sleep may be a little uneasy. The prior residents, after all, lived out of necessity in caves and huts. On the other hand, a piece of history–as well the Senza Nidd family’s memories and thousands like them–can be preserved.
Angelique Chrisafis is the Guardian’s Paris correspondent. She is responsible for churning out quality articles based on her research while keeping an eye on the tech world. She likes technology, gadgets, and food. Works as an individual contributor to the team.