Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is thought to have been settled in the 3rd century BC. It was variously occupied by Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, etc., over the centuries.
Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the "Sassi di Matera". The Sassi originated in a prehistoric troglodyte settlement, and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy.
The Sassi are houses dug into the chalky rock itself. Many of them are really little more than small caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi, a street lies on top of another group of dwellings. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and up the other side of the ravine.
The height of the population was 20,000. This resulted in overcrowded conditions where disease spread due to unsanitary conditions.
In the 1950's, as part of a policy to clear the extreme poverty of the Sassi, the government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to new public housing in the developing modern city nearby.
We had another great lunch! Have I said the food is sooooo goooood here?!?!?!?!?
Until the late 1980's, the Sassi was still considered an area of poverty, since its dwellings were, and in most cases still are, uninhabitable and dangerous.
The present local administration has become more tourism-oriented, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi as a picturesque touristic attraction with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO, EU and Hollywood.
Rich people have now moved into the Sassi since it has been cleaned up. There are hotels and spas, pubs and thriving businesses. You can stay in a original cavern for over $2000 per night.
Some of the pictures show a cavern that is furnished like it would have been, with furniture and tools of the time.