MATERA is a city and a province in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Matera and the capital of Basilicata from 1663 to 1806. The town lies in a small canyon carved out by the Gravina (a river)
Known as LA CITTA SOTTERRANEA (the Subterranean City), Matera is well-known for its historical centre called SASSI, considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993, along with the Park of the Rupestrian Churches. The city was allegedly founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC, with the name of MATHEOLA after the Consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus.
Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the SASSI di MATERA (meaning ” stones of Matera” ). The Sassi originated in a prehistoric troglodyte ( a human being who inhabits a cave or the area beneath the overhanging rocks of a cliff), and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy.
The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia. Many of them really little more than 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 this ravine is known locally as la GRAVINA. In the 1950s, the Government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city.
Until the late 1980s, the Sassi was considered an area of poverty since its dwellings were and in most cases still are, uninhabitable. The present local administration, however, has become more tourist-oriented, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the Italian Government, UNESCO and Hollywood. Today, there are many thriving businesses, pubs and hotels there. Matera preserves a large and diverse collection of buildings related to the Christian faith, including a large number of Rupestrian Churches carved from the soft volcanic rock of the region. The Churches which are also found in the neighbouring region of Apulia, were listed in the 1998 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund.
MATERA CATHEDRAL ( 1268 – 1270) has been dedicated to Santa Maria della Bruna since 1389. Built in a Romanesque architectural style, the Church has a 52metre tall bell tower, and next to the main gate is a statue of Maria della Bruna, backed by those of Saints Peter and Paul. The main feature of the façade is the “rose window”, divided by 16 small columns. The interior is on the Latin Cross Plan, with a nave and 2 aisles. The decoration is mainly from the 18th century Baroque Restoration, but recently a Byzantine-style 14th century fresco portraying the LAST JUDGMENT has been discovered.
Two other important Churches in Matera, both dedicated to the Apostle. Peter, are SAN PIETRO CAVEOSO & SAN PIETRO BARISANO. San Pietro Barisano was recently restored in a project by the World Monuments Fund, funded by American Express. The main altar and the interior frescoes were cleaned and missing pieces of moulding, reliefs and other adornments were reconstructed from photographic archives or surrounding fragments.
There are many Churches and Monasteries dating back throughout the history f the Christian Church. Some are simple caves with a single altar and maybe a fresco, often located on the opposite side of the ravine. Some are complex cave networks with large underground chambers, thought to have been used for meditation by the monks.
Matera was built above a deep ravine, that divides the territory into two areas. Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide water supply to its inhabitants. Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels.
The largest cistern has been found under PIAZZA VITTORIO VENETO, with its solid pillars carved from the rock and a vault height of more than 15metres it is a veritable Water Cathedral, which is navigable by boat. Like other cisterns in the town, many of these cisterns were turned into houses and other kinds of water-harvesting systems were realized. Some of these more recent facilities have the shape of houses submerged in the earth.
The TRAMONTANO CASTLE, begun in the early 16th century, is probably the only other structure that is above ground and of any great significance outside the Sassi. However, the construction remained unfinished after Count Gian Carlo Tramontano’s assassination in the riot of the 29th of December, 1514. It has three large towers, while 12 were probably included in the original design. During some restoration work in the main square of the town, workers cane across what was believed to be the main footings of another Castle tower. However, on further excavation, large Roman cisterns were unearthed. Whole house structures were discovered where one can see how the people of that era lived. Found under the main square was a large underground reservoir, complete with columns and a vaulted ceiling.
Because of the ancient primeval-looking scenery in and around the Sassi, it has been used by filmmakers (as the setting for ancient Jerusalem). Some of the following famous Biblical period motion pictures were filmed in Matera : (1964) The Gospel According To Saint Matthew.—- (1985) King David. —- (2004) The Passion of the Christ. —— (2005) Mary. —– (2006) The Nativity Story.