Matera Travel Guide: What to See and Do in the Ancient City

Matera is a city located in the southern region of Italy, famous for its unique and historic architectural structures known as "Sassi" - ancient cave dwellings carved out of limestone rock. 

Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a European Capital of Culture. Discover its ancient history, stunning architecture and natural beauty with our guide to the best things to do in Matera.

Top attractions to visit in Matera

  • The Sassi di Matera: These are the most famous and unique attractions in Matera. They are ancient cave dwellings that have been inhabited by locals for thousands of years. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 because of their historical significance and unique architecture.

  • The Rupestrian Churches: Matera is home to many ancient churches that were carved out of the limestone rock. Some of the most notable ones include the Church of San Pietro Barisano, the Church of San Giovanni in Monterrone, and the Church of Santa Maria de Idris.

  • The Palazzo Lanfranchi Museum: This museum is housed in an old 17th-century palace and features exhibits on the history and culture of Matera. It also has a section dedicated to contemporary art.

  • The Casa Noha: This is a multimedia museum that tells the story of Matera's history and culture through interactive exhibits and displays.

  • The Tramontano Castle: This castle was built in the 16th century and offers stunning views of the city from its perch on a hill. Visitors can tour its rooms and learn about its history.

  • The Park of the Murgia Materana: This park is situated on the outskirts of Matera and is perfect for hiking and exploring the rugged terrain. It also offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Matera is a unique and fascinating city with plenty to see and do. From exploring ancient cave dwellings to learning about local history and culture, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

What is Matera famous for?

Matera is famous for its unique and historic architectural structures known as "Sassi" that are ancient cave dwellings carved out of limestone rock. These cave dwellings have been inhabited by locals for thousands of years, and they are a symbol of the city's history and cultural heritage. In 1993, the Sassi di Matera were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of their historical significance and unique architecture.

Today, Matera is a popular tourist destination where visitors can explore the Sassi, visit ancient churches, museums, castles, and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Can I visit Matera on a day trip?

It is possible to visit Matera on a day trip, but it is recommended to stay for at least one night to fully experience and appreciate the city's unique culture and history. A day trip would be quite rushed and may not allow enough time to explore all of the city's attractions.

If you are short on time and can only visit Matera on a day trip, it is best to focus on the main attractions such as the Sassi di Matera, the ancient churches, and the Palazzo Lanfranchi Museum. You can also take a walk around the city center, enjoy the local cuisine in one of the many restaurants, and shop for souvenirs.

However, if you have more time, consider spending a night or two in Matera to truly immerse yourself in the city's unique charm and history. There are many hotels, guesthouses, and bed and breakfasts available to suit different budgets and preferences.

Is Matera the oldest city in the world?

Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with evidence of human habitation dating back to the Paleolithic era, around 7,000 years ago. However, it is not the oldest city in the world.

There are several other cities that claim to be the oldest, such as Jericho in the Palestinian Territories, which has evidence of human habitation dating back over 11,000 years. Other ancient cities include Aleppo in Syria, Varanasi in India, and Luoyang in China.

While Matera may not be the oldest city in the world, it certainly has a rich history and cultural heritage that makes it a unique and fascinating destination for visitors from all around the globe.

FAQs

  • What is the best time of year to visit Matera?

The best time to visit Matera is during the spring or fall when the weather is mild and comfortable for exploring the city's attractions. The summer months can be hot and crowded, while winter may be chilly and rainy.

  • How do I get to Matera from other cities in Italy?

Matera is well-connected by train and bus to other cities in Italy. The closest major airport is Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport, which is about an hour's drive from Matera. From there, you can take a train or bus to Matera.

  • Can I take a guided tour of Matera?

Yes, there are many guided tours available that will take you on a comprehensive tour of Matera's main attractions, including the Sassi, ancient churches, museums, and more. Guided tours are a great way to learn about the city's history and culture from knowledgeable local guides.

  • What are some traditional foods and dishes to try in Matera?

Some traditional foods and dishes to try in Matera include "pane di Matera" (the city's famous bread made with durum wheat), "orecchiette" pasta with meat sauce, "peperoni cruschi" (dried peppers fried in olive oil), "cavatelli" pasta with beans and wild chicory, and "capocollo" cured meat.

  • Is it safe to travel to Matera?

Yes, Matera is generally a safe destination for visitors. As with any city, it's important to take common sense safety precautions such as being aware of your surroundings, keeping valuables out of sight, and avoiding poorly lit areas at night.

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