Matera: capital of the European culture 2019!
What better occasion to talk about Matera, remembering our travel to this wonderful town made three years ago? Since long I would have loved to visit it, so during our on the road travel through Puglia, we decided to include also this little gem of the region Basilicata. I was sorry that I couldn’t stay one more day because Matera is really a place apart from the rest. More than a town, it seems like a crib and it seems strange that it was inhabiited until the 50s!
The time to dedicate to Matera is never enough, but we unfortunately had just one day to see everything possible, and to tried to draw a suitable itinerary considering our limits. That’s not a tragedy however: it’s not so difficult to receive at least a general impression of the town, and to feel surrounded by its magic!
In this post I’ll tell you how we organized to try to see as much as possible, giving you some tips to optimize time!
MATERA: WHERE YOU CAN PARK
The problem of the car parks is everywhere, but in Matera even more. We stayed at Alberobello, so we got up early in the morning to be in Matera at a good hour to find place. After searching for a little while, we decided to park near the court: there’s a big car park right in front of it. The price (2016) was honest: 5 Euro for the whole day. The negative thing is that it’s guarded just until 19 or 20, but we didn’t have unpleasant surprises!
Otherwise there’s a silos behind the court, but I don’t know the amount.
HOW TO VISIT IT IF YOU HAVE FEW TIME
The town is not so small to visit, it has uphill and downhill roads and the very interesting attractions are really a lot. So, after surfing in the Internet to have info, we understood that the best solution was to buy a guided tour. Even if it can be a bit expensive, I suggest you to do the same, first because all guides are certified, and second because to visit the Stone houses also means to know their history, too peculiar and incredible to be ignored. Only that way, through a conscious trip, you can really appreciate the amazing town of Matera. Moreover with the guide you can surely spare time!
We looked in internet and found different guides: we chose “Info Matera” in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the main square, just for one reason: it was the only agency that had a very complete itinerary, including both Sasso Barisano and Caveoso, the rock churches Madonna della Virtù and San Nicola dei Greci, the visit to the cave house , the Cathedral and other churches, with a final tasting of the typical products. This happened three years ago (2106), now it could be there’s something better, but I don’t know. Anyway the tour was at 10 in the morning, completely on foot and lasted at least two hours and half / three: I say it because there were people in the group who had difficulties in walking so much and suffered a lot! If you have some problems, maybe better to choose for a tour of the town by bee gig: you can’t obviously reach every part of the village, but it’s anyway a funny experience and you can visit Matera without efforts.
The tour just described, in spite was quite complete, didn’t reach all places we wanted to see. So after a brief stop for lunch with pizza and Coca Cola, we immediately started walking to try to visit other attractions on our own:
- the rock church of Madonna di Idris and Santa Lucia alle Malve: two wonderful and frescoed churches, pity that you can’t take photos inside! (5 Euro per person for both churches. Prices 2016);
- the Castello Tramontano, a castle that disappointed us a lot;
- the visit to Palombaro lungo, a big water tank carved into the rock under the main square (3 Euro per person). It’s a good thing to book the entry on site immediately when you arrive because the queue is always long and the opening hours slightly reduced.
In the evening, at about 18, were tired for the long day walking, but we still really wanted to visit, so we booked another guided tour towards the Murgia Materana. I was interested in this area because it’s the most ancient part of Matera, an archaeological historical natural park of the rock churches and inhabited area since the prehistoric period: a real gem useful to complete the overall picture. Moreover you can have the best view of the “Sassi” and take a postcard photo! I absolutely suggest you this kind of light trekking among stones and the boundless nature. The final gem: the sunset over the “Sassi” gives you a romantic atmosphere. Not for nothing this area became the location for wedding videos.
These two guided tours with the travel agency costed for us about 67/70 euro per person.
MATERA: TOURS TIPS
The tour of the town was entirely on foot at a steady pace, and there are uphill and downhill streets, so I suggest you comfortable clothes, above all as regards the shoes.
As regard the tour to Murgia, I can say the same things plus another one: as you’ll go up there in the evening and there’s no shelters, you can feel a cold wind. I remember it was very cold during the tour, in spite was the end of April and during the day was so hot! So remember to take a scarf, and if you have ear problems, take with you also a winter cap. For those who go in Summer, there’s probably non need!
Which travel agency to choose? As I told you, in Internet you’ll find a wide choise, but you can also book once on site in one of the several local agencies: you won’t have problems to find the one suitable for you. We preferred to contact the agency via mail from home, to be sure to find place, as we had to organize different tours during the day. The end of April is also a period in which people begin to move, and we didn’t want to lose time! If you book, you’ll propbably have to leave a little deposit.
WHAT I WOULD DO IF I COULD RETURN
Matera is so beautiful and exciting, that I suggest you to enjoy it in two day at least, if you have the possibility. Staying for the night means to spend an evening among the Sassi, with their thousand lights and the colours the sunset gives them: you’ll believe to be inside a fairy tail village, terribly romantic and full of charme.
If you have the car, you can’t absolutely skip to visit a little gem I’d have liked to see:
- La Cripta del Peccato Originale: cost 10 Euro; reduced 8 Euro; free under 6 (prices 2019). Visits are only guided.
It’s called the Rocky Cappella Sistina, made precious by a cicle of frescoes inside: my parents, who saw it, told me it’s something unmissable! If you don’t have your own car, try to ask the agencies of Matera: they’ll probably organize the trip for you.
MATERA: WHERE TO STAY
Obviously I didn’t stay here for the night, but my parents did, so I’ll leave you the name of a B&B in which they had a good time.
- in the historical centre, in the Sasso Caveoso area;
- daily cleaning of the room; linen change from the third day of staying;
- owners are kindly;
- sweet and salty breakfast;
- possibility to book excursions with travel agencies.
- private bath and toilet not very wide, but comfortable and warm;
- no car park: the owners come to pick you up;
- visual external impact not optimal.
MATERA: SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
Absolutely not, if you decide to follow what I suggested you in this post: the tour on foot in Matera is strenghten also for us adults; for children is even worse, above all you’ll find a hot day. Everything in one day, absolutely not! We were infact without our daughter.
Absolutely yes if you’ll take some more days holiday in order to walk with calm respecting the timimg of the children.
- A nice option not to bore them is to visit Matera by bee gig: the tour will transform into a curious adventure and you could take on board also the stroller, if you have one.
- Another option is to follow tour suitable for children: a friend of mine chose Eleonora of Matera tour per bambini she appreciated much: I invite you to visit her site to understand what can do.
- Visit MUSMA: a contemporary art museum; they propose activities for families and children.
MATERA: THE SOUVENIRS
Also in Matera are the famous stalls with the typical local products, but if I have to be sincere, they don’t disturb the beauty of the town! Otherwise there are also small shops that sells evrything, but the typical objects are four, each of them with its own meaning:
- the cucù: he typical whistle from Matera, with the shape of a rooster, that produces a very strong whistle! First symbol of virility and strenght, and used like a lucky charm outside homes to drive away the evil spirits. Then it was adorned and used during the phase of courtship: more the decorations were precious, and more love for the girlfriend was big, such as the material richness he gave her.
- the pupa: it’s a little doll with coloured clothes made of pottery, and it’s the reproduction of the “Pupa di Caciocavallo”(kind of cheese): in the past people used to give it away to children during the weaning period. Scratching the rind, they eased the discomfort in the gums; moreover the cheese got soften and could be used as pacifier with calcium! I find it a genius thing!
- the sun: I’m honest, I can’t remember what the owner of the shop told me about that symbol!
- the stamp of the bread: symbol of the pastoral art of the Murgia of Matera. It was realized by the shepherds during the transhumance. Through the stamp you could recognize the immediate family, and in according to the kind of representation chosen, it assumed a particular symbolic meaning: normally love, prosperity and virility.
MATERA: THE HISTORY
Matera: a national shame!
This was the judgement expressed by Togliatti, leader of the Communist Party, when went to Matera to verify with his own eyes the appalling conditions in which its inhabitants lived. If you look it today, so full of charme and splendor, you’d never know the town had such a tragic history in the past!
Until the ‘700 life was sustainable thanks to the water conservation and to the storage. Then there was a quick population growth, so it was necessary to extend the space and to begin to build also on the floor area. The caves were inhabited by more and more family groups; even churches were intended for residential use. Water began to be no more enough and the life conditions of the inhabitants were the most humiliating that could exist. What impressed me and made me sad at the same time, was when our guide told us that inside the caves, that seemed by now a jam-packed crowd of houses, lived together people and animals. As a consequence grew several illnesses, malaria included.
The Italian policy began to pay attention to the question of Matera, after the denunciation by Carlo Levi. So it was born a commission that began to study the delicate case of this town, and after tried to propose some solutions to move people in more worthy places, restoring in the meanwhile the whole area of the Sassi.
With the special law “Legge Speciale per lo Sfollamento dei Sassi” the population was obliged to leave the area and to move into the public housings in the edge of town. The Sasso area fall in the shadows: it was completely emptied and remained uninhabited for long time. To the people was offered a plot of land to work, while they paid very low rents in change of their houses they left to the State.
In the ’50 years Matera became the movie directors’ attraction who made a lot of films exploiting the beauty of the location offered by the Sassi, until it was the great ransom in 1993, when Matera was declared World Heritage. The inhabitants began to look at their past no more with shame and contempt, but with the consciousness of what their territory can offer.
In 2014, after being put on the list for the nomination in 2008, was appointed “European Capital of the Culture 2019”.
WHAT TO VISIT IN MATERA: WHICH ATTRACTIONS NOT TO SKIP
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THE MEANING OF TRAVEL FOR ME
In the last years I follow what Dalai Lama says:” At least once a year go to a place you’ve never been before”.
After years of sufferings and sacrifices, I’ve decided that life is too short and too unpredictable to continue waiting to do what I like and what makes me happy.
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Thank you! Amazing information !
Thanks Marina! I'm happy if you've found the article good!
Suggerimenti preziosi che anticipavano le mie domande, sembrava mi ci stessi accompagnando per mano con un sorriso!
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Ma dai Rosa, Grazieeeeee! Mi fai troppo felice! E' bellissimo per chi scrive info sapere che in realtà sono davvero utili a chi viaggia! Grazie per aver lasciato la tua opinione!
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