What to do and see in Matera, Italy?
To visit Matera, in the South of Italy, is to discover one of the oldest cities in the world!
The city is in the region of Basilicata, a rather unknown part of Italy. The good news is that as the city is located just 1 hour from Bari or Taranto, Matera fits perfectly into a route in Puglia. And it would be a shame to miss out on it!
Thanks to our guide and all our advice, discover all the things to do and see in Matera: a must-see tourist site during a trip to the South of Italy.
I also give you our list of places of interest to visit around Matera and at the end of the article our selection of the best accommodations in the city .
Matera: a must for a stay in Puglia
History and culture: What is a Sassi?
What attracts thousands of visitors each year to Matera and gives it a unique charm are its typical houses, the Sassi. But, if you had never heard of Matera before organizing your stay in Puglia, a little explanation is needed: what is a Sassi?
The Sassi di Matera (translated as “Matera Stones”) are troglodyte habitats. From simple caves shaped by the torrent that flows to the bottom of the ravine, the places have been occupied since the Paleolithic, which helps to make Matera, one of the oldest cities in the world and one of the oldest archaeological sites !
Over the centuries, the caves have turned into real homes. The rock is very friable, it is natural that the inhabitants of Matera decided to dig their house and live there. The extracted rock was then used to shape the facades of the houses. Over time, a real city is born .
Today there are nearly 3000 caves and several rock churches, also located in the caves. They served as a refuge for several Byzantine monks in the 7th and 8th century.
Unfortunately in the 1950s, the Sassi are no more than a vast slum sheltering the poorest families. The living conditions are miserable and the Sassi totally unhealthy. Many diseases are developing and the infant mortality rate is 50%! In the late 1950s, the government launched a massive Sassi evacuation program and the population was relocated to the modern quarters of Matera.
The Sassi are then abandoned until the 80s when a restoration program is launched in order not to lose this unique cultural heritage in the world. In 1993, the Sassi di Matera are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.
The site is still in progress but should be completed by 2019. Since Matera has been elected the European Capital of Culture for 2019, everything is organized to be ready in time for the event.
Most Sassi today house guest houses, hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Things to do and see in Matera
Matera is made up of several thousand Sassi. The historic center is divided into 2 districts to visit:
- the Sasso Caveoso
- the Sasso Barisano which houses the district of Civita, the oldest district of Matera
Matera can only be visited on foot, some areas are totally closed to cars and other parts are reserved for residents only.
To visit Matera and not miss anything to do and see, I advise you to go to the tourist office (there are several in the city) to remove a map of the city. You will find 3 suggestions of itineraries, more or less long, so as not to miss anything of the places of interests to see in Matera.
While visiting Matera? Here are the 11 things you should not miss
1) The Duomo or Cathedral of Matera: Built in 1230, the cathedral was completely renovated recently as part of the election of the city as European Capital of Culture in 2019. Its exterior is rather sober, typical of Puglia Romanesque style.
Inside you can admire a splendid medieval fresco: “the last judgment”. From the Duomo square, you will also have a magnificent view of Matera and the Sassi.
2) The church of San Pietro Caveoso built right on the edge of the ravine of Matera and offers a beautiful panorama
3) Madonna de Idris Rock Church, carved into the rock, overlooks the Matera ravine
4) Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, a small museum that traces and recreates the living conditions in the Sassi with period furniture and objects
5) The Convicinio di Sant’Antonio, a complex housing 4 rock churches
6) The MOOM, Matera Olive Oil Museum, a tiny museum where you will be explained how to make olive oil
7) The Palazzo Lanfranchi which houses the Museum of Modern Art. Next door, go through the piazzetta Pascoli belvedere to enjoy a panorama of the Sassi and the ravine
8) The Church of St. Francis of Assisi located on the square of the same name
9) The Monastery of Sant’Agostino
10) The National Archaeological Museum to understand the origins of the city of Matera and its surroundings
11) The Castle Tramontano, erected from 1501 by the Count who reigned on Matera, it was never completed. The inhabitants, dissatisfied with the amount of taxes to be paid, have indeed murdered the Count in the street, at the end of the cathedral!
What to do around Matera?
As the visit of the Sassi will probably not occupy you all day, I suggest 3 other places to see around Matera.
The park of Murgia Materana
During your visit to Matera, you may have seen people walking across the ravine in the Murgia Materana Park, also known as the “Matera Rock Church Park”.
I really recommend going for a walk, if only to see Matera from another angle from the Murgia Timone belvedere in the park. From Matera, it takes about 10 minutes by car to reach it. You can also walk to the other side, down the stairs to Piazza Postergola and over a monkey bridge.
The belvedere is the ideal place to realize a magnificent panorama on all the Sassi!
With an area of 8,000 hectares, the Park della Murgia is ideal for hiking. You can discover some of the 150 cave churches currently listed. If you want to know more, go to the tourist office of Matera to get the map of walks. Some are even feasible on mountain bikes.
This is one of the must-see places around Matera!
The Puglia canyon
In Puglia, there is a canyon that crosses several villages and offers magnificent views.
From Matera, it takes about 25 minutes to reach the nearest village, Laterza. The other villages crossed by the Puglia canyon are:
- Ginosa and its castle of the Middle Ages
- Castellaneta where a belvedere allows you to admire the gravins
- Massafra, a village totally cut in 2 by the canyon and connected by a bridge
Even if the villages are quite small and there are no specific monuments to see, it is nice to walk there and to admire the different panoramas on the canyon.
All located in the surroundings of Matera, you will have a good chance of passing if you arrive from Tarantoor Alberobello. Remember to stop!
Visiting time: Between 1h if you want to visit only one village to an afternoon if you want to see everything.
Castel Del Monte
Another tourist site to see near Matera: the Castel Del Monte.
Located about 1:10 by car from Matera, the castle is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 12th century at the top of a hill, it is today lost in the countryside. The site is worth visiting to admire its architecture with perfect forms.
You can also visit the interior for ten euros but there is not much to see. The outside will impress you a lot more!
Going to see Castel Del Monte is a good idea if you plan to continue your holiday to the Gargano Nature Park for example. Since Matera it will not make you make a big detour.
It is also close to Trani (40 minutes) and Bari (1 hour).
Time to visit: You will probably stop there between 15 and 30 minutes, time to take some pictures! a bit more if you want to visit the interior.
How long to visit Matera?
To visit Matera (the city itself), I advise you to plan a half-day.
The Sassi are grouped in a specific area but the place is quite large and there are a lot of stairs, which requires taking time. You can choose to follow the routes provided by the tourist office or simply stroll in the streets according to your desires. Impossible to lose you!
I advise you to visit Matera in the afternoon and spend a night there. In the evening, the city lights up on all sides, giving it a very special atmosphere. A show not to be missed in Matera!
And the next morning, when leaving, I recommend you to make a stop at the park of Murgia Materana to take advantage of the point of view.
Where to sleep in Matera
- Matera in Vacanza: Located 3 minutes walk from the Sassi area. Spacious and very clean double room from 80 € per night, breakfast included. Most: the location to visit Matera on foot, the warm welcome and French.
- Thymus Residence nei Sassi: Located 5 minutes from Matera Cathedral. This hotel offers double rooms furnished in Sassi, from 160 € per night, breakfast included. The most: experience the experience of sleeping in a Sassi, the perfect location. This is our favorite for his report benefits / prices in Matera!
- Locanda Di San Martino Hotel & Thermae Romanae: The hotel is located in the heart of the Sassi. Double room with wooden furniture and vaulted ceilings located in Sassi from 260 € per night, breakfast included. Most: the indoor pool, valet parking, comfortable bedding, the charm of the place. It’s our choice for a romantic stay in Matera.
- Palazzo Gattini Luxury Hotel: Located in an ancient palace, a few meters from the Piazza del Duomo. This 5 * hotel offers tastefully decorated double rooms from € 480 including breakfast. Pros: excellent breakfast, lovely staff, location, spa.
Where to eat in Matera
- AltraPizza: Located Via Giambattista Pentasuglia.It is the ideal place to eat a good pizza cooked in the wood oven in Matera! The choice is wide, they are plentiful and the prices are really affordable.
- Kapunto: Located in Via Lucana. I highly recommend this restaurant if, like me, you are a big fan of pasta! The pasta is made on site and exposed in the window. You then choose the type of pasta and your sauce of your choice and voila! Delicious and not too expensive!
- Dedalo – Sensi sommersi: If you are looking for a more chic restaurant, go to Dedalo. Located in a Sassi, it offers original cuisine and quality in a beautiful setting.
How to get to Matera?
- From Bari: Count 1h10 by car
- From Taranto: Join Matera in 1h15
- From Alberobello: 1 hour 10 minutes to Matera
My impressions of Matera
Matera was a very good surprise. There is very little information on the net so I did not particularly see any pictures before.
I was very surprised by the extent of the old city and by the impressive number of Sassi. Everything has been very well restored and the city has kept an authentic charm. The discovery of Matera was one of my favorite visits during my tour in Puglia.
Matera is very touristy, but unlike Alberobello (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and unique in the world), souvenir shops and hotels are less “intrusive”. You can walk around quietly and immerse yourself in the atmosphere.
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