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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



Want to get out of the hustle and bustle of Rome?  The town of Subiaco is located in the eastern Lazio region of central Italy, at the head of the Aniene valley, close to a hill about 400 meters above sea level, and across the slopes of the Simbruini mountains.


The medieval town, built  on a rocky cliff, looks over the entire valley of the Aniene, where we find the Benedictine monasteries of the ‘Sacro Speco’ and ‘St. Scholastica’, the principal attractions of a visit.

At the entrance to Subiaco is the medieval bridge of S. Francesco, built by Abbot Adhemar in 1358 and with a single span reaching almost 40 metres. The tower at the end of the bridge historically controlled access to the city.

St Francis Bridge Subiaco

Across the river Aniene is the Church of S. Francis, dating back to 1327 and built in the Romanesque-Gothic style. The interior of the church has a single nave covered by a trussed roof, with a great triumphal arch and a square choir.

Be sure to enter the church which contains frescoes of considerable importance, such as those by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, called “Il Sodoma” (1477-1549), who painted a cycle of frescoes depicting the life of Mary, which concludes with the Passion of Christ.

In the church vault are paintings of the Evangelists and Christ the Redeemer while below there are some scenes in the ancient relief style and two pilasters with grotesques.


Outside the town, we find the famous monastery of St. Scholastica. Of particular interest is the Romanesque bell tower, dating back to the eleventh century, with three cloisters (of Renaissance, Gothic and Cosmatesque style).

Of the twelve monasteries in the valley constructed by St. Benedict at Subiaco, it is the only one to have survived the various earthquakes and destructions. It appears as a complex of buildings built in different periods and styles.

The monastery is structured with three cloisters. The first, the “Renaissance cloister,” dates back to the 16th century, while the “Gothic Cloister” with pointed arches, is 14th century. The third cloister dates from the 13th century with the colonnade by the brothers Cosmati and ornamented pavements, walls and columns with enamels of gold.


Saint Scholastica Monastery

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