15 Matera sights worth seeing
Matera is a unique and distinctive place, and you should do your best to squeeze it into your Italy itinerary. Matera’s main attraction is the Sassi, or cave quarter. The locals who stayed in Sassi until the 1950s lived here in unbearable conditions. Media and popular pressure became so strong that the Italian government decided to expropriate the houses and palaces in Sassi and evacuate the population to new dwellings. This decision turned Sassi into a ghost town for more than four decades.
The revival of Sassi (and Matera) began only in the 1990s, when Matera was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Since then, the town has continued to invest in its cultural heritage – houses and churches are constantly being renovated, elegant hotels with vaulted cave rooms and restaurants that offer delicious local cuisine have opened.
Sassi di Matera village
The village of Sassi di Matera.
“Sassi” (which translates to “stones”) is probably the first thing that comes to mind when mentioning Matera. This ancient village, dug into the limestone rock on the side of the Gravina Valley, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. It consists of two parts: Sasso Barisano and Sasso Cavioso. The best way to travel here is on foot. Spend a whole day walking through the maze of narrow alleyways with pretty little courtyards teeming with bright green cacti.
Climb the old stone staircases and enjoy the breathtaking view from above. Discover the beautiful square and walk under the impressive arches that lead you into a city that still seems to live in the distant past.
While the Sasso-Barisano area has undergone significant changes, with its old restored caves that create stunning artistic spaces, boutique hotels and traditional restaurants, it is in Sasso-Cavioso that you can feel how life used to be here. Because of security issues, some caves are not accessible (never try to climb over barriers), but the ones you can see will give you a completely unique experience.
It gets very hot in Mather, so try to walk less outside at lunchtime. And, if you want to walk the streets alone (or in the company of a few tourists), go out for a walk at 7am – and the city will become your own private museum.
Address: Sassi di Matera, Matera, Italy.
Palombaro Lungo Reservoir
Palombaro Lungo Reservoir.
Palombaro Lungo is a gigantic reservoir, one of those used until recently to provide water to the old town. Carved into the existing rock just below the plaza, it looks like a giant cathedral, flooded with sunlight that enters through holes in the roof. You can only get inside with a group; you have to pay to enter at the ticket office just below the square. Guides will tell you about the history of the cistern and its construction. Multilingual tours are available.
Address: Palombaro Lungo, Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Matera, Italy.
Church of San Pietro Barisano
The Church of San Pietro Barisano.
St. Peter’s Church is the largest of the Rupestrian churches of Matera, dating back to the 12th century. It hides underneath the ancient cells of niches where corpses were placed for draining. At the level of the entrance, you can see 15th and 16th century frescoes depicting the Annunciation and various saints. The empty altar frame colorfully illustrates the troubled history of the city: the church was looted in the 60s and 70s, when most of the residents moved to new homes.
Address: Church of Saint Peter ‘Barisano’, Via San Pietro Barisano, Matera, Italy.
Monastery of Madonna della Virtu San Nicola della Greci
Monastery of Madonna della Virtu San Nicola della Grecchi.
This monastic complex is one of the most important monuments of Matera. It consists of two floors with dozens of rooms carved in tufa limestone. The Convent of the Madonna della Virtue was built in the 10th or 11th century and rebuilt in the 17th century. Above it stretches San Nicola della Greci, decorated with many frescoes. The complex was used in 1213 by Benedictine monks of Palestinian origin. The churches are sometimes used for art installations. There is a charge for admission.
Address: Chiese Rupestri di San Nicola dei Greci e Madonna delle Virtù, Via Madonna delle Virtù, Matera, Italy.
View of Matera.
If you want to capture Sassi at its best, take the Taranto-Laterza road (SS7) and follow the signs to the park of the cave churches. This road will lead you to the Belvedere, the site of the crucifixion of Christ, which offers a fantastic view of the Matera. It is a particularly impressive sight at sunset.
Address: Contrada Murgia Timone, Matera, Italy.
Cathedral of Matera. | Photo: wikimedia.
Situated on an elevated site between two natural lowlands of Sassi, this pale, 13th-century cathedral will surprise you with its elegant interior. Having undergone a 13-year renovation, this cathedral allows you to admire ornate capitals, sumptuous chapels, 17th-century frescoes, a 13th-century “Byzantine Madonna” and two 12th-century frescoes. Note the pediments on the cathedral’s altars, which are similar to those seen in Greek churches in Metaponto.
Address: Cathédrale de Matera, Piazza Duomo, Matera, Italy.
Crypt of Original Sin
Crypt of Original Sin. | Photo: Basilicata Turistica / Flickr.
What else to see in Matera? Be sure to visit the Crypt of Original Sin, another fascinating place that contains well-preserved 8th century frescoes depicting vivid scenes from the Old and New Testaments. It is because of them that the Crypt has earned the title of the “Sistine Chapel” of the cave churches of Matera. It is located 7 km south of Matera. All tours are booked through the website and then paid for at the ticket office 30 minutes before the start.
Address: Cripta del Peccato Originale, Contrada Pietrapenta, Matera, Italy.
Casa Grotte di Vico Solitario
Casa Grotte di Vico Solitario.
For a glimpse of life in old Matera, visit this historic place on Via Bruno Buozzi. Inside you will see a bed, a loom, a manure room, and space for a pig and a donkey. You will also be able to enter several neighboring caves: in one of them a black and white film is broadcast that tells the story of the restoration of Matera.
Address: Casa Grotta nei Sassi, Vico Solitario, Matera, Italy.
Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve
Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve.| Photo: wikimedia.
This church dates from the 8th century, at which time it was built as the first stronghold of the Benedictine Order in Matera. The rock church has a number of frescoes from the 13th century, including an unusual fresco depicting a nursing Madonna. The church originally had three aisles, two of which were later adapted as dwellings.
Address: Chiesa di Santa Lucia alle Malve, Rione Malve, Matera, Italy.
Church of Santa Maria di Idris
Church of Santa Maria di Idris.| Photo: Luca Moglia / Flickr.
Dug into the Idris rock, this church has an unsightly facade and a narrow corridor that connects it to the sunken Church of San Giovanni in Monterrone. It is richly decorated with 12th- and 17th-century frescoes.
Address: Chiesa di Santa Maria di Idris, Via Madonna dell’Idris, Matera, Italy.
Castle Tramontano. | Photo: wikimedia.
Located on a hill not far from the city center, this 15th-century castle was never completed. Construction was begun by Count Tramontano, who imposed high taxes and had a habit of sleeping with every bride on her wedding night. Such behavior did not win the favor of the people, so he was later murdered by rebellious subjects. The story of the count’s violent death is illustrated by four small tiles on the Via Riscatto to the left of the cathedral. Unfortunately, the castle is closed to the public.
Address: Castello Tramontano, Via del Castello, Matera, Italy.
St. Augustine Monastery
Monastery of St. Augustine. | Photo: wikimedia.
This 16th-century monastic complex in Sasso Barisano was built by monks of the honorary order of St. Augustine. Open during mass, it allows a glimpse of the 18th-century organ and a painting of the Madonna and Child.
Address: Convento di Sant’Agostino, Via D’Addozio, Matera, Italy.
Monastery of Santa Lucia Agatha alla Civita
Monastery of Santa Lucia Agata alla Civita.
This church was a Benedictine monastery in the 14th and 18th centuries. Nowadays it is used to celebrate civil marriages. Its terrace offers a particularly picturesque view of Gravina.
Address: Convento di Santa Lucia ed Agata alla Civita, Via Madonna delle Virtù, Matera, Italy.
The Musma Museum in Matera contains an extensive collection of sculptures, ceramics, artifacts, and more. All of these are displayed in cave houses. This “Palace of a Hundred Rooms” is located in Palazzo Pomeracci. All objects are conventionally divided into two themes.
The first floor exhibits objects depicting the history of sculpture since 1800, while the specimens on the lower floors are united by the theme of “Excavation.” This 17th century cave palace with frescoes of hunting scenes and rooms carved in the rock is one of the best among Matera’s museums.
Address: MUSMA – Museo della Scultura Contemporanea, Via San Giacomo, Matera, Italy.
Murcia Materana Park
Park Murgia Materana | Photo: wikimedia.
If you want to see everything in Matera, go to the opposite side of the gorge and cross the Tibetano Bridge – there you will see the magnificent Murja Materana Park. In this park you will find ancient Neolithic caves as well as churches and ruins. Be prepared for some serious physical exertion – the steps in the park are steep and the paths are unmarked. But the breathtaking views of Matera from this park are worth the effort!
Matera (Italy) – the most detailed information about the city with photos and a map. The main sights of Matera with descriptions in the tourist guide.
City of Matera (Italy).
Matera is a city in southern Italy in the region of Basilicata. It is one of the most unusual and interesting places in the country and one of the oldest settlements in Europe, whose history goes back seven thousand years. Matera has a magnificent old town, preserving almost intact historical core and a whole area of ancient cave houses, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
What to do (Matera):
€145 per tour.
Explore the labyrinthine streets and cave houses and discover a town with 7,000 years of history
€144 per excursion
Secrets of the Cave City
Explore the labyrinths of the cave quarter, visit the ancient church and enjoy the panoramic view of Matera
Geography and climate
The town is situated in the eastern part of the Basilicata region at an altitude of 401 meters above sea level. Matera borders the southwestern part of the province of Bari and has a hot subtropical climate.
- Population – 60.4 thousand people
- Area – 392,09 km2
- Language – Italian
- Currency – Euro
- Visa – Schengen
- Time – UTC +1
Historians consider Matera one of the oldest permanent settlements in the world. Its history goes back 7 to 10 thousand years. The modern city was founded by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C. After the collapse of the Roman Empire (in the 7th century AD) the city was conquered by the Lombards and became part of the Duchy of Benevento.
The streets of Matera
In the 7th and 8th centuries, the nearby grottoes were inhabited by monks, mainly of the Benedictine order. In the 9th and 10th centuries Matera suffered several Saracen and Byzantine sieges. In the first half of the 11th century the city became part of the Norman domains. In the 15th century Matera became an Aragonese possession and was given to the Barons of Tramontano.
In the 17th century Matera was given to the Countship of Orsini and effectively became part of Puglia. Later the city was chosen as the capital of the province Basilicata, maintaining this status until 1806.
How to reach
Matera is easily reached by train from Bari. There are also direct bus services to the airport of the capital of Puglia.
Matera is a magnificent old town that includes a network of inhabited caves inhabited since the Paleolithic. The city is full of ancient architecture and ancient churches, charming narrow streets and alleys, stone stairs and viewing platforms with stunning views, beautiful courtyards strewn with bright green cacti, small trees and flowers.
Matera’s cityscape has retained a “biblical character” in some ways and a walk through its ancient streets is like a step back in time. That is why the city is often used as a natural backdrop for historical films.
Sassi is the jewel of the Matera, a magnificent cultural landscape of ancient inhabited caves and medieval stone houses, inhabited since the Paleolithic. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most atmospheric places in Italy.
The caves and houses of Sassi were inhabited until the second half of the 20th century and were considered almost “the disgrace of Italy”. People here lived in poverty and without comforts. Then the Italian government settled the inhabitants and turned the area into a striking historical and cultural space.
Sassi is divided into two districts: Barisano and Caveoso. Barisano occupies the northern part of this landscape and Caveoso the southern. The cave houses and churches were dug in limestone caves. The oldest ones date back to the pre-Roman period. Some cave houses are open to the public, others have been converted into stores and restaurants.
The cathedral is the jewel of the Romanesque style and the most famous church of Matera. The cathedral was built in the 13th century on the highest point of the city and is a symbol of the urban landscape. The church has a Latin cross plan and consists of three naves divided by circular arches supported by columns with stone capitals. Most of the interior of the cathedral is Baroque and dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Inside is an ancient Byzantine fresco with the image of the Madonna, dated 1270 and attributed to a certain Rinaldo da Taranto. The cathedral’s architecture stands out for its 52-meter bell tower.
In Matera there are more than 150 cave churches, many of them decorated with unique ancient frescoes.
San Giovanni Battista
San Giovanni Battista is a magnificent medieval church from the 13th century. The building has a predominantly Romanesque architecture with noticeable influences from other styles: Arabic style in the portals, Gothic style in the arches and Greek style in the plan of the building structure. In the right side of the church (the building has no real façade), the main portal, elegantly decorated with vegetal scrolls and dangling columns with sculptures of animals, stands out.
The interior consists of three naves bounded by eight columns with capitals. The central nave has a star vault and the side aisles have large transverse arches forming cross vaults. The medieval chapels contain a 16th-century fresco of the Madonna della Nova and two ancient wooden statues depicting Saints Cosmas and Damian.
Monastery of Sant’Agostino
The Convent of Sant’Agostino is an imposing complex of Baroque buildings from the 16th century. The complex consists of the monastery built by the monks of the Emeritian order of Sant’Agostino in 1592 and the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, built in 1594. Destroyed in 1734 by a terrible earthquake, the monastery was rebuilt and later became the residence of the Augustinian monks. Today it houses the office of the Office of the Architectural Heritage of Matera.
Church of San Domenico
The Church of San Domenico is a 13th century Romanesque building located in the central square of Matera – Vittorio Veneto. The church has a stern stone facade in which a very beautiful rose window with four relief figures stands out. The building has a plan of the Latin cross and a three-nave interior.
Church of San Francesco d’Assisi
The Church of San Francesco d’Assisi in the square of the same name was founded in the first half of the 13th century, expanded in the 15th century and almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century in Baroque style. The church has a remarkable late Baroque facade. Inside is the ancient crypt of Saints Peter and Paul, which contains an ancient fresco depicting a visit to Matera by Pope Urban II in 1093.
Church of San Pietro Caveoso
The Church of San Pietro Caveoso, built in the 13th century, is one of the symbols of the Sassi neighborhood of the same name. In the 17th century, the building was almost completely rebuilt. A Baroque bell tower was also added. Inside the church are many 18th century paintings and frescoes of saints. Numerous chapels are decorated with moldings, frescoes and wooden polyptychs.
Santa Maria di Idris (top right)
Santa Maria di Idris is a 12th century stone church carved into the rock. It is located at the top of Monterrone, a large limestone rock that rises in the heart of Caveoso. The church can be accessed by a staircase that begins at the cave church of Santa Lucia alle Malve. The building has a simple stone façade. The interior, which has preserved fragments of ancient frescoes, has preserved almost nothing of the original structure.
Tramontano is an imposing 15th century castle in Aragonese style, built as a Norman residence on the edge of the old town with a magnificent view of the historic core of Matera. The complex originally consisted of eight square towers and was equipped with a bridge. Round towers were added in the early 16th century. In 1514 Baron Tramontano was assassinated and so the castle was left unfinished.
Palazzo Lanfranci is a 17th century Renaissance palace with a magnificent façade. The building was designed and built by Friar Francesco da Copertino at the request of Archbishop Vincenzo Lanfranchi to house the diocesan seminary and is considered the most striking 17th-century monument in Matera. The palazzo now houses the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata.
Palazzo del Sedile
Palazzo del Sedile is another striking monument of civil architecture in Matera. The palace was built in 1540 and reconstructed in the Renaissance style in 1759. The facade of the palazzo is decorated with two bell towers and six statues.
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