Matera is the oldest of the Italian cities, located on a rocky outcrop in the Basilicata region. It incorporates the highly historical and interesting Sassi area, which boasts a series of cave houses carved into the mountainside.
Matera also contains many 13th century churches that are full of historical significance. With a history that extends back 30 000 years, you’ll be overwhelmed with the amount there is to learn about this fascinating city.
But that’s not all it has to offer. Containing nothing short of breathtaking views, this city has everything it takes to be a world class tourist destination.
Although it might not have already been on your Italian bucket list, this post is sure to convince you that it should be.
- 1 Where is Matera in Italy?
- 2 Things to Do in the Oldest City in Italy
- 2.1 Walk Along the Main Road
- 2.2 Wander the Streets of the Sassi
- 2.3 Visit the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Idris
- 2.4 Hike Over to the Belvedere
- 2.5 Do a tuk-tuk tour of Matera
- 2.6 Eat at a Restaurant With a View
- 2.7 Enjoy the Viewpoint From Convento di Sant’Agostino
- 2.8 Visit the Duomo of Matera
- 2.9 Visit MUSMA
- 2.10 Select a Few Chiese Rupestri in Matera to Visit
- 2.11 Explore Matera by night
- 3 Where to Stay in Matera
Where is Matera in Italy?
Matera is located in the Basilicata region of southern Italy. I was visiting Matera in October and I was surprised by how warm it was.
How to Get to Matera, Italy
The best way to get to Matera, is to fly to Bari from any of the Italian major cities. From Bari, you can take the airport bus to Matera, which will take an hour and five minutes, and cost you between 6€ – 8€.
Things to Do in the Oldest City in Italy
Matera is a must visit location on any Italy itinerary. With historic attractions and beautiful sights in equal portions, you’re guaranteed a great time. Here are a few of the activities you simply have to take part in in Matera.
Walk Along the Main Road
The first thing you should do when you get to the city is walk along the fascinating main road. Apart from the many shops, restaurants, and bars that are worth popping into, there are some wonderful viewing points along the way.
The main two viewing points are Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli and Belvedere Luigi Gurrigghio, which provide stunning views of Sassi.
There are many other viewing points along the way, so if you have the time, you could spend a few hours taking in all the sights in the area.
Because of the way the town and Sassi are developed, there are tons of great viewpoints. The main road is at the top of a hill, with the sassi located below on the hillside. That means there are multiple opportunities for great views.
If you’d like to learn about the history of the town as you go, taking a walking tour of the city is a great idea.
Wander the Streets of the Sassi
Sassi is the name given to the cave networks where the troglodytes used to live. These were used as a dwelling in the Paleolithic Age.
The area developed into an intricate network of cave systems, with internal arches, balconies, steps and attics.
In the 19th century, the Sassi were occupied by farmers and peasants, and known as The Shame of Italy. The caves of Matera had become somewhat of a slum.
During the 1950s, the government relocated these cave dwellers to government housing, and the caves lay empty for years.
In the 1980s, the government gave businessmen the opportunity to rent the caves from them, as long as they were then used for tourist purposes.
Businessmen started monopolising on the opportunity of this unique space, and took over some of the caves.
They cleaned them up, and turned them into liveable properties. Many of them are now extremely popular Matera cave hotels.
Wandering the streets of Matera Sassi is not only beautiful and mesmerizing, but the area has such historic significance that there’s a lot to learn.
If you’d prefer to venture into the area with a professional guide showing you around, there are plenty of tours that lead you around Sassi.
Visit the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Idris
Chiesa di Santa Maria di Idris is an old Catholic Church located in the Sassi.
It’s also known as Madonna de Idris and is made out of, and carved into the rock. The church is built into a large limestone cliff in the upper portion of Sasso Caveoso.
The church itself (both interior and exterior) isn’t particularly amazing, but the when you first see it it’s without a doubt breathtaking. Seeing this church built into the cliff, standing out and tall above the Sassi is unique.
Not much of the original structure is left, which is thought to have been built in the 12th century, but the church still has incredibly old elements.
A Madonna and Child altar dates back to the 17th century. There’s a fresco above the altar that dates back to the 12th century. And plenty of other elements that date back to the 13th and 14th centuries can be found here.
Hike Over to the Belvedere
The Belvedere hike is a two hour hike through the Parco Regionale della Murgia Materana. It takes you to a hill overlooking the beautiful city of Matera and has plenty of fascinating points of interest along the way.
This portion of countryside is still used by shepherds to this day, and all along the track you’ll see evidence of humanity having lived in the area in the past. You’ll also discover plenty of new caves along the way.
On this hike, you’ll be able to appreciate views of Matera and Sassi from a completely unique perspective.
Be sure to bring your camera along for this journey as you admire the Matera caves and wonderful natural rock formations in the area.
The hike is around 4km long with around 700m of height change.
They may look like tuk-tuks, but in Italy we call them ape-car. Whatever you decide to call it, doing a tuk-tuk (or ape-car) tour is a pretty unique thing to do in Matera.
These cute little wannabe cars are very typical in the south of Italy. In Matera they readapted them for tourist tours. We asked a few different tours and prices were around 20 EUR per person for a 45 minute tour.
However, this is Italy, the final price depends on how well you can haggle. The tours will take you to all the main highlights of Matera, as well as giving you some information and a guided experience.
If you don’t want to walk a lot it’s perfect. However they won’t be able to go properly inside the Sassi, since the most picturesque streets in the Sassi are entirely pedestrian.
Eat at a Restaurant With a View
Italy as a country is known for its great gastronomy. So of course, trying out some of the incredible restaurants in Matera is a must.
Pick a restaurant with a magnificent view to add to the experience. These are some of the best Matera restaurants for appreciating great views, and simultaneously, delicious food:
- Dimora Ulmo
- La Nicchia nel Sasso
- 5 Lire Matera
- San Biagio Ristorante
- La Grotta nei Sassi
- Lanfranchi Caffe
Just about every restaurant in Matera serves the famed bread of Matera, which is a must try for every visitor. It’s a bread made with a yeast base, durum wheat flour, salt, and water.
Enjoy the Viewpoint From Convento di Sant’Agostino
Convento di Sant’Agostino is a former baroque monastery with many stone elements on display. It’s completely free to visit, and a worthwhile trip for its historic significance. But the church itself is not the only reason to visit.
The view from the front of the building looks over the magnificent Sassi di Matera.
You can spend a few minutes outside of the church admiring the panoramic views before entering. Be sure to snap a few photos from this spot before continuing on your way.
Visit the Duomo of Matera
Matera Cathedral is in view from just about everywhere in the city. So it’s only natural that you’ll want to pay the structure a visit.
The impressive building was completed in 1270, and has intricate artwork carved into its sides. The artwork speaks of morality, and warns its viewers against being led astray.
The cathedral is free to visit, and the interior is covered in frescos, artwork and paintings on its ceilings. The original altars have been preserved, and you can appreciate intricate marble work throughout the cathedral.
You can also enjoy stunning views outside of the cathedral. It’s definitely worth pausing for a couple of moments to take in the breathtaking views and snap a few pictures.
MUSMA is an exciting experience for art-lovers as it’s the Museum of Contemporary Art Matera. You can find traditional sculptures from centuries past, as well as other contemporary local and international art.
The authenticity of this museum is shown in the way that the art is displayed within a network of caves. It’s certainly a museum experience that you won’t forget any time soon.
Select a Few Chiese Rupestri in Matera to Visit
Chiese Rupestri are churches and religious structures built into the stone. Over the years, they may have taken on other uses, but their original purpose was a religious one.
There are quite a few around Matera, so choose one or two to visit as they present fairly similar experiences.
If you’re looking to see the more famous ones, then be sure to pay San Pietro Caveoso and San Francesco di Assisi a visit.
Explore Matera by night
Make sure to venture out also in the evenings. The Sassi are already pretty unique as they are, but seeing them lit up for the night is something else entirely.
It gives Matera a magical and mysterious air. Wander around the Sassi or simply admire it from the viewpoints on the main road. You’ll be glad you did.
Where to Stay in Matera
Matera has so many wonderful places to stay. Here’s the accommodation that I can personally recommend, as I thoroughly enjoyed my stay.
The View Matera has stunning views over the city. It has a huge window with the perfect Matera view (as the name suggests) and a lovely rooftop terrace.
It’s not a particularly big apartment, but it’s spacious in its own way and the terrace makes up for the small bedroom. Here you can sit and enjoy a lovely breakfast or aperitivo at sunset.
Final Thoughts on Matera, Italy Things to Do
Now that you know about all the incredible options for things to do in Matera, you can get going on this incredible holiday opportunity.
Although Matera is not usually the first place that comes to mind when you think of a vacation to Italy, it’s well worth adding to your itinerary.
So pack your bags for this Italy adventure. After all, not many people can say they’ve been to the third oldest city in the world. So why not be one of them?
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