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Matera

Began well with the fast train from Napoli to Salerno. Then panic! My connection to Matera was not listed anywhere! The station police, after making a few phone calls, could only advise me to go to Trenitalia Customer Service, after sympathetically saying that the train "does not exist". Ready to give the service rep a piece of my mind, which I can barely spare, she patiently pointed to the Freccia Link bus stop in front of the station. This service is so new that it's not on the Departures poster yet.

After boarding the minibus, the driver gave everyone a bottle of cold water, and off we went.there was one rest stop, in Potenza, and we arrived in Matera in just under three hours total.

My B&B hosts picked me up at the train station, I am one of the few who come here by public transportation. I have always had the Carlo Levi room, and now it is home in Matera for me. The B&B is Donna Eleanora, on a small piazzetta near the Main Street that leads to the Sassi. Only three rooms, so everyone meets at breakfast to trade tips and stories.

The story of this ancient inhabited area is heartbreaking. People have always lived in cave houses here, but eventual overcrowding and poverty led to epidemics. Carlo Levi, a doctor-writer who was exiled to this area for his political views, exposed this dire situation in his book, Christ Stopped at Eboli, referring to the abandonment of the welfare of the people in the latter centuries. He wrote that children would stand by the road, begging passers by not for sweets or money, but for quinine. The infant mortality rate was 50%. In the early 1960s, the people were removed to government-built housing in buildings that were meant to resemble the sassi villages: dwellings around a communal courtyard, many with communal ovens. Matera is famous for its bread, in old days baked in communal ovens and stamped with a seal to identify the baker. These seals (or replicas) are sold as souvenirs.

Matera has been named a City of Culture for 2019, and things are changing. More golf-cart and minibus tours, more restaurants, cafes, and gelaterie, more churches open. The Duomo is now open, having been closed for thirteen years! The 13thcentury frescoes that remain are beautiful (some were demolished to make space for a presepio chapel a few centuries ago). Not all change is good - the Crypt of Original Sin, on private land, is closed indefinitely due to a dispute between the family that owns the property and a civic agency. My favorite restaurant has changed owners but kept the name, and the genius chef-owner's whereabouts are unknown, at least to my B&B family, who knows everything.

I took a minibus tour of the Belvedere and another of the sassi, very convenient on a hot day. There is a break for walking around, which I did not do at the Belvedere since I am a snake magnet and had been told there were snakes - and vipers - in the unmarked places along the trails. A couple of fellow passengers spotted some of them.

On my last morning, before my B&B hosts delivered me to the train/bus stop, I took one more look around, and asked the family to hold the room for me for next year.

Posted by
6211 posts

Hi Zoe,
Thanks for your report. Out of curiosity, are you fluent in Italian?

Also, I've never been to this part of Italy. From google images, it looks a bit like Cappadoccia in Turkey. How does it compare (if you've been to both)?

Posted by
2895 posts

A great report Zoe! Thank you!

Matera is indeed unique! I'm anxious to look for the book you mentioned.

It's wonderful that you found a "home" there!

Posted by
236 posts

Thank you for your report on your visit to Matera. I too fell in love with this ancient city. When I am asked to describe the towns in Southern Italy the only word that comes to mind in regards to Matera is "magical". There is something special about having a peak into the lives of past generations and Matera is a living testament to life as it once was. As we looked forward to our Southern Italy tour Matera was a place of interest, but with an eye to stops that we thought we would better enjoy. It goes to show you that you can find a gem when you least expect it!

Posted by
323 posts

We have nothing but beautiful memories of Matera, which we found by reading RS travel forum. Went in 2014 and stayed at a cave hotel built into the rocks in Matera ( the Le Dodici Lune). They had an Easter Sunday meal at the restaurant there and we met many of their family who come every year for the Easter meal. We were then invited to sit at the family table and have dessert and Grappa with them. It is a memory we cherish. Getting there and getting back to Bari to take the ferry to Dubrovnic was somewhat of a pain, but well worth it for our visit in Matera.

Posted by
11613 posts

Agnes, "fluent" might be overstating my capacity for choosing verb tenses, but overall, yes.

Matera's sassi is an area within a city, unlike the larger area of Capadoccia. The simlarity is probably greatest in the number of cave churches and dwellings. Very different histories.

Posted by
9447 posts

Beautiful report! Love the transportation story, a classic: "too new."

Posted by
11613 posts

Laurel, the train/bus connection info is especially for you, I know you love trains!

I especially love the passegiata every evening - residents, visitors, everyone is out in the cooler night air. Usually ends with gelato.

Posted by
1741 posts

Thank you for sharing about your trip. Your description makes me want to put Matera at the top of my list. It sounds wonderful and photos online are just amazing!

Posted by
11613 posts

Susan and Monte, the photos are beautiful but still don't do justice to the sassi.