A weekend in Matera, European Capital of Culture

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A weekend in Matera, European Capital of Culture

From Naples, head for the region of Basilicata. Step inside this one-of-a-kind town for an unusual weekend away in the European Capital of Culture 2019.

A weekend in Matera, European Capital of Culture

Re-birth of a town in the rocks

Setting out from Naples, your route eventually takes you to the Murgia Timone viewpoint. From there, you are greeted with an absolutely amazing view of Matera, on the other side of the ravine. You are immediately bowled over by the stunning landscape in front of you: a troglodyte village built into the tuff rock of the mountainside. Like an elaborate piece of lace, the cliff is literally dotted with hundreds of caves. It is a scene that is as impressive as it is bare!

Over the ages, these natural caves have provided shelter for prehistoric men, been turned into chapels decorated by Byzantine monks and then, enlarged and furnished, served as basic dwellings for the local population. In 1952, after centuries of deterioration and neglect, the government ordered the evacuation of the entire town on health grounds. The setting you see today has fortunately changed for the better. The town that Alcide De Gasperi, former Prime Minister of Italy, dubbed “the shame of Italy” became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

Long years of renovation, first started by a few enthusiastic volunteers, have restored life and dignity back to Matera. Like a phoenix, the village has risen from its ashes to be born again, while keeping its original authenticity and sobriety intact. Artisans and artists have taken ownership of the place, keeping a watchful eye over this true Italian gem. And its most recent recognition to date – Matera has been selected as the European Capital of Culture 2019. Your weekend promises to be full of thrills and discovery.

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A weekend in Matera, European Capital of Culture

Troglodyte wanderings

To enjoy your troglodyte experience to the full, stay at the Hotel Sassi, not far from the main square, Piazza Vittorio Veneto. The panorama over Matera is simply stunning. This three-star hotel was the first to renovate a series of troglodyte houses and open them up to guests. This is cave-dwelling at its best!

If you are after a more intimate ambiance, you might like to choose a guest house, such as La Casa di Ele. From its balconies, you can gaze out over an incredible labyrinth of stone alleyways and small ochre houses.

One alley leads to another, uneven steps, worn by time, climb up to a magnificent viewpoint revealing the village from yet another angle… A roof here, a terrace there and further on, a hidden doorway… You stroll through this maze of troglodyte houses, letting your heightened curiosity guide you in awe. And you are quite happy to get lost, open to whatever surprises are round the corner. The colours change with every passing hour, filling the whole place with life. In the evening, you can even visit some of the houses, giving you a peep into the quaint atmosphere of these caves, developed by man down through the centuries.

Hotel Sassi
Via San Giovanni Vecchio 89
75100 Matera (MT)
Italy
+39 0835 331009
www.hotelsassi.it/index.php?lang=en

La Casa di Ele
Via San Biagio 26
75100 Matera (MT)
Italy
+39 389 011 7392
www.lacasadiele.it/en/

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A weekend in Matera, European Capital of Culture

Visiting the museums of Matera

If you needed any proof of Matera's re-discovered vitality, then the MUSMA is the place. The Museum of Contemporary Sculpture is the largest museum in Italy devoted exclusively to sculpture and the only one in the world to be built in a cave! Almost 400 works by contemporary artists are on show as you pass through the arched rooms of the building.

Further on, go back in time to see what daily life was like in this part of Italy in the 18th century at the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario museum. Furniture and workers' tools from a bygone age give an insight into the cave dwellers' past.

MUSMA (Museum of Contemporary Sculpture)
Via San Giacomo
75100 Matera (MT)
Italy
+39 366 935 7768
www.musma.it/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=157

Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario museum
Vico Solitario 11
75100 Matera (MT)
Italy
+39 0835 310118
www.casagrotta.it/

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A weekend in Matera, European Capital of Culture

In Pasolini's footsteps

On your wanderings around town, make sure you visit one of the 140 rock-churches that Matera lays claim to. They were carved out of the rock by hermits or monastic communities between the 8th and 12th centuries. They are full of soul, and their sobriety and Byzantine-influenced frescoes cannot fail to charm. The frescoes in Santa Lucia alle Malve church date back to the 10th century and are still miraculously well-preserved. Santa Maria de Idris church is set into a rock overlooking the ravine. From the church square, the view is incredible. This quite extraordinary setting has inspired several big names of cinema, including director Pier Paolo Pasolini. The place certainly knows how to work its magic.

Santa Lucia alle Malve
Rione Malve
75100 Matera (MT)
Italy
+39 327 980 3776

Santa Maria de Idris
Via Madonna dell'Idris
75100 Matera (MT)
Italy
+39 335 534 6892

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A weekend in Matera, European Capital of Culture

Magical Matera nights

Your stay in Matera comes to a close with la passeggiata, a ritual stroll where the town's inhabitants go out to see and be seen. Every evening at about 7 o'clock, young and old alike wander up and down, meet up with friends, have a laugh and a joke, and put the world to rights… The area between Piazza Sedile and Piazza Veneto, two small pedestrian squares, is bursting with joy and life. This is also the time to enjoy a homemade ice cream from Gelateria I Vizi degli Angeli. Lemon, mint and even bergamot come together to create combinations that are both refreshing and delicious.

Once night falls, you are treated to yet another spectacle – the bright lights of Matera! The stone town is transformed by hundreds of twinkling lights shining from the houses, like stars in the night sky. Dinner tonight is at Osteria Pico. Your waiter brings you a plate of ferricelli pasta in a creamy chicory sauce with mint-sauteed vegetables. After this tasty meal, stroll one last time around the town's squares and streets. Matera still has plenty more charms to reveal.

Gelateria I Vizi degli Angeli
Via Domenico Ridola 36
75100 Matera (MT)
Italy
+39 0835 310637
www.ivizidegliangeli.it/

Osteria Pico
Via Fiorentini 42
75100 Matera (MT)
Italy
+39 0835 240424