The city built in caves!

Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the “Sassi di Matera”.   The Sassi, or caves,  originated in a prehistoric settlement, and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy.   The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcereous rock itself, which is characteristic of the region of Basilicata and Apulia.  The area has been named a World Heritage site by UNESCO.



Many of the Sassi are really little more than caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi a street lies on top of another group of dwellings.  The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as “la Gravina”.  In the 1950’s, the government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city.


Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide a water supply to its inhabitants.  Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels.    The largest cistern has been found under Piazza Vittorio Veneto.  Like other cisterns in the town, it collected rainwater that was filtered and flowed in a controlled way to the Sassi.

matera cistern


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