I Sassi di Matera (1993)

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This is the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem. The first inhabited zone dates from the Palaeolithic, while later settlements illustrate a number of significant stages in human history. Matera is in the southern region of Basilicata.

Italy 1981. Matera.

Some of the most impressive scenery in the south of Italy is hidden away in the heart of the tranquil, sun-drenched Basilicata region. The expanses of golden wheat near Potenza, the spectacular lakes around Venosa, and the historic towns that dot the hillsides are so picturesque that they have been used as film sets by photographers and film directors, including Pier Paolo Pasolini, Francesco Rosi, Lina Wertmuller, and recently, Mel Gibson, for his film “The Passion of the Christ.” 

Except for the city of Matera, famous for its ancient sassi, or stone cliffs, the region is not often visited by tourists, which only adds to its mysterious charm. 

  • Italy 1981. City of Matera. 
Matera is a town and a province in the region of Basilicata, sometimes referred to as Lucania, in the south of Italy. 

Apart from an economy which has traditionally been based on agriculture, in the late 1990s the major economic base of Matera, and of surrounding cities, is the production of upholstery furniture. At the beginning of the 21st century, the town had a population of 57,785 (2001 census). 

  • Italy 2004. Basilicata Region. 

Italy 2004. Basilicata Region

Matera had gained international fame for its ancient town, the so-called "Sassi di Matera" (meaning "stones of Matera") which is a prehistorical (troglodyte) settlement, and is suspected to be one of the first human settlements in Italy. This ancient town lays over a small canyon, which has been dug in the course of years by a small water stream, called "Gravina".

This town has many peculiar and unique characteristics:

  1. The "Sassi" are houses dug into the tuff rock that characterize Puglia and Basilicata. Many of these "houses" are really only caverns.

  2. The streets in some parts of the "Sassi" often are located on the rooftops of other houses, because the ancient town had grown in height on one border of the ravine created by the "Gravina".

  3. During the 1950s, the government relocated most of the population of the Sassi to the modern city of Matera. People still live in the Sassi today, however. Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since these houses are mostly unlivable. Current local administration, becoming more tourism-oriented, has promoted the gentrification of the "Sassi" and the tuff houses are becoming more livable and attractive.

  4. There is a great similarity in the look of the Sassi with that of ancient sites in and around Jerusalem, which are as ancient.

Because of the ancient and primitive scenery in and around the Sassi, it has been used by film makers as the setting for ancient Jerusalem. The following famous biblical period movies were filmed in Matera: 

  1. Pier Paolo Pasolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964). 
  2. Bruce Beresford's "King David" (1985)
  3. Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" (2004). 

A memorable chapter on Matera, describing the really poor life of people in the south of Italy at the beginning of the twentieth century, is in the book "Cristo si θ fermato a Eboli" (Christ stopped at Eboli) by Carlo Levi. 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Italy (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Italy for further information about such sites. 

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Revised 01 aug 2006  
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