Touring Italy North and South travel blog

Model of Matera and its Sassi (cave dwellings)

Our tour guide Bethany tells us about the Sassi

Canyon that borders Matera

David and Susan with canyon in the background

Another shot of the canyon

David with Matera in background

Looking up at the cave dwellings

Typical cave dwelling exterior

Susan's camera shoots the canyon

Stone age caves

Golgotha in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"

Interior of a cave dwelling circa 1956

Mousetrap--they ahd a lot of mice in these places

Cave space

More cave space

Chamber pot next to the bed

Looking over the cave dwelling

Layout in the cave dwelling

Looking down into the cistern for the cave dwelling

Tools in the cave dwelling

Donkey space

Interior of main church in Matera

Picture of female saint and tortures she endured

Boxes that serve as nests for kestrals that circle over Matera in...

Rock church in Sassi Caveoso

Beautiful shot of the Sassi

David and Susan in Matera

Purgatory church--facade looks like a bishop's mitre

Headstone over the door at Purgatory Church

Door fo the Purgatory Church

Old car that serves as a wedding vehicle

This is the place where we had the long-delayed lunch

Pretty much the way I felt after lunch at this place.

Saturday- Today we start with a walk with our local guide Bethany, who introduced us to the cave city. She explained the events that led to the caves being abandoned for awhile until people started filtering back in. We visited a cave that was cleaned up and fitted out as it might have appeared in 1956. It was common for the people to house their chckens, donkey and pigs in the cave with them. The advantage was that they provided needed heat to keep the cave warm. The donkey had its own stall and the pigs had an area. The chickens slept under the bed. The large cabinets would be folded out to make a bed. The smallest children would sleep in the drawers.There was no running water, electricity, or sewer—they used buckets, candles and chamber pots.

When the government allowed some people to return, it required that they renovate to add all of the modern conveniences, which has made it pretty expensive to fix up and live in a cave. But hotels and yuppies are doing it, and the cave residences, once renovated, can be pretty expensive.

Most of the caves in the lower town (the earliest dwellings) have remained abandoned. We did walk down into that area to visit an old rock church. The area was once two churches—a Greek Orthodox church and a Roman Catholic church, but at one point the Roman Catholic church took over and expanded into the Greek area. No pictures were allowed inside the church, but it was impressive for its small size.

Bethany also took us to the Purgatory Church, which is known for its carvings on the outside of the church providing some insight into the catholic concept of Purgatory. The wooden door on the outside of the church is divided into 36 panels, each devoted compulsively to the theme of death, with skulls and crossbones sometimes crowned with headgear belonging to rulers and prelates, intended to emphasise the fact that all men are equal after death.

We ended the tour around noon, so our group began fanning out for lunch. Some of us went to a trattoria recommended by Rick Steves that advertised that Mel Gibson had eaten there while filming The Passion of Christ.” Unfortunately that restaurant was closed for a private party (did Mel come back?), but the owner recommended a sister place around the corner that concentrated on spaghetti.

This turned out to be a mistake. Our waitress was friendly enough, and our order wasn’t that complicated, but it took forever to get our food. Susan had a view into the kitchen and reported that the cook was throwing fits-- starting dishes then throwing them away and starting again—and the waitress and he were fighting over something. The only good part was that she brought us wine and drinks that we could nurse while we waited interminably for our food. We almost got up and left, but that seemed even more complicated than just waiting. We finally got the food—out of order (the secondi came first, the spaghetti later)—and when we got our check that didn’t seem right either. We just paid and left.

After going up and down hills and steps all morning, Susan was ready for a siesta. She laid down for a nap, but I wanted to look for a lapel pin from Matera and buy a coffee mug I spotted during our rounds in the morning. As I took off for the shop we had visited in the morning, I was joined by Marty, one of our fellow travelers. He decided to go with me on my mission. It was nice to have another person remembering where we had gone to get us started. As Rick Steves recommends in his book, Marty and I wandered around in Matera and got lost several times, running into dead ends. While the sun was out, the temperature in the shade was cool and we had a little breeze that made it very comfortable walking.

We finally managed to wend our way out of the maze and back to an area we recognized, then we were joined by others from our group who, like us, were just wandering around the neighborhood. We all found our way back to the hotel. That night we had a cocktail party in the hotel, and many of us brought out the wine and liquors we had purchased in Alberobello and enjoyed them along with snacks of local foods that Tommaso and others brought. Susan and I found that an adequate dinner and just headed on to bed.

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