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Comune di Matera
Matera Luglio 2019.jpeg
Panorama of Matera
Coat of arms
Map of comune of Matera (province of Matera, region Basilicata, Italy).svg
Matera within the Province of Matera
Location of Matera
Italy provincial location map 2016.svg
Red pog.svg
Location of Matera in Basilicata
Italy Basilicata location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Matera (Basilicata)
Coordinates: 40°40′N16°36′E / 40.667°N 16.600°E / 40.667; 16.600
Country Italy
Region Basilicata
Province Matera (MT)
Frazioni La Martella, Venusio, Picciano A, Picciano B
  Mayor Domenico Bennardi (M5S)
  Total387.4 km2 (149.6 sq mi)
401 m (1,316 ft)
 (January 1, 2018) [2]
  Density160/km2 (400/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Materani
Time zone UTC+1 (CET)
  Summer (DST) UTC+2 (CEST)
Postal code
Dialing code 0835
Patron saintMadonna della Bruna
Saint dayJuly 2
Website Official website
The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Matera - veduta della Civita da S. Maria di Idris.JPG
The Sassi of Matera
Criteria Cultural: iii, iv, v
Reference 670
Inscription1993 (17th session)
Area1,016 ha
Buffer zone4,365 ha

Matera (Italian pronunciation:  [maˈtɛːra] , locally [maˈteːra] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); Materano: Matàrë [maˈtæːrə] ) is a city in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy.


As the capital of the province of Matera, its original settlement lies in two canyons carved by the Gravina River. This area, the Sassi di Matera, is a complex of cave dwellings carved into the ancient river canyon. Over the course of its history, Matera has been occupied by Greeks, Romans, Longobards, Byzantines, Saracens, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, and Bourbons.

By the late 1800s, Matera's cave dwellings became noted for intractable poverty, poor sanitation, meager working conditions, and rampant disease. Evacuated in 1952, the population was relocated to modern housing, and the Sassi (Italian for "stones") lay abandoned until the 1980s. Renewed vision and investment led to the cave dwellings becoming a noted historic tourism destination, with hotels, small museums and restaurants – and a vibrant arts community.

Known as la città sotterranea ("the underground city"), the Sassi and the park of the Rupestrian Churches were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. In 2019, Matera was declared a European Capital of Culture.


Though scholars continue to debate the date the dwellings were first occupied in Matera, and the continuity of their subsequent occupation, the area of what is now Matera is believed to have been settled since the Palaeolithic (10th millennium BC). This makes it potentially one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in the world. [3] Alternatively it has been suggested by architectural historian Anne Parmly Toxey that the area has been "occupied continuously for at least three millennia and occupied sporadically for 150–700 millennia prior to this". [4]

The town of Matera was founded by the Roman Lucius Caecilius Metellus in 251 BC who called it Matheola. [5] In AD 664 Matera was conquered by the Lombards and became part of the Duchy of Benevento. Architectural historian Anne Parmly Toxey writes that "The date of Matera's founding is debated; however, the revered work of the city’s early chroniclers provides numerous, generally accepted accounts of Goth, Longobard, Byzantine, and Saracen sieges of the city beginning in the eighth century and accelerating through the ninth century AD." [6] In the 7th and 8th centuries the nearby grottos were colonised by both Benedictine and Basilian monastic institutions. The 9th and 10th centuries were characterised by the struggle between the Byzantines and the German emperors, including Louis II, who partially destroyed the city. After the settlement of the Normans in Apulia, Matera was ruled by William Iron-Arm from 1043.

After a short communal phase and a series of pestilences and earthquakes, the city became an Aragonese possession in the 15th century, and was given in fief to the barons of the Tramontano family. In 1514, however, the population rebelled against the oppression and killed Count Giovanni Carlo Tramontano. In the 17th century Matera was handed over to the Orsini and then became part of the Terra d'Otranto, in Apulia. Later it was capital of the province of Basilicata, a position it retained until 1806, when Joseph Bonaparte assigned it to Potenza.

In 1927 it became capital of the new province of Matera.


Since local government political reorganization in 1993, Matera has been governed by the City Council of Matera. Voters elect directly 32 councilors and the Mayor of Matera every five years.

Main sights

The Sassi (ancient town)

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 habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia. 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 this ravine is known locally as "la Gravina". In the 1950s, 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.

Until the late 1980s 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, however, has become more tourism-orientated, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi as a picturesque touristic attraction with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs and hotels there, and the city is amongst the fastest growing in southern Italy.

Monasteries and churches

Stairways in Matera. Sassi di Matera aprile06 05.jpg
Stairways in Matera.

Matera preserves a large and diverse collection of buildings related to the Christian faith, including a large number of rupestrian churches carved from the calcarenite rock of the region. [7] These 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 an Apulian Romanesque architectural style, the church has a 52 m tall bell tower, and next to the main gate is a statue of the Maria della Bruna, backed by those of Saints Peter and Paul. The main feature of the façade is the rose window, divided by sixteen small columns. The interior is on the Latin cross plan, with a nave and two aisles. The decoration is mainly from the 18th century Baroque restoration, but recently [ when? ] a Byzantine-style 14th-century fresco portraying the Last Judgement has been discovered.

Two other important churches in Matera, both dedicated to the Apostle Peter, are San Pietro Caveoso (in the Sasso Caveoso) and San Pietro Barisano (in the Sasso 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 moldings, reliefs, and other adornments were reconstructed from photographic archives or surrounding fragments. [8]

There are many other churches and monasteries dating back throughout the history of 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 rupestrian and cenobitic monks.

Cisterns and water collection

Ferdinandea Fountain FONTANA FERDINANDEA 2.jpg
Ferdinandea Fountain

Matera was built above a deep ravine called Gravina of Matera that divides the territory into two areas. Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide a 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, the Palombaro Lungo which was built in 1832. [9] With its solid pillars carved from the rock and a vault height of more than fifteen metres, it is a veritable water cathedral, which is navigable by boat. Like other cisterns in the town, it collected rainwater that was filtered and flowed in a controlled way to the Sassi.

There were also a large number of little superficial canals that fed pools and hanging gardens. Moreover, many bell-shaped cisterns in dug houses were filled up by seepage. Later, when the population increased, many of these cisterns were turned into houses and other kinds of water-harvesting systems were realised.

Some of these more recent facilities have the shape of houses submerged in the earth. [10]

Natural areas

The Murgia National Park (Parco della Murgia Materana), a regional park established in 1990, includes the territory of the Gravina di Matera and about 150 rock churches scattered along the slopes of the ravines and the plateau of the Murgia. This area, inhabited since prehistoric times, still preserves stationing dating back to the Paleolithic, such as the Grotta dei pipistrelli (cave of the bats), and to the Neolithic. [11] [12] The symbol of the park is the lesser kestrel.

The San Giuliano Regional Reserve, a protected area established in 2000, includes Lake San Giuliano, an artificial reservoir created by the damming of the Bradano river, and the river sections upstream and downstream of it. [13]

Colle di Timmari, a green lung located about 15 km from the city, dominates the Bradano valley and the San Giuliano lake. It is a pleasant residential area, and on the top of the hill there is the small Sanctuary of San Salvatore, dating back to 1310, and an important archaeological area.

Other sights

The Tramontano Castle, begun in the early 16th century by Gian Carlo Tramontano, Count of Matera, is probably the only other structure that is above ground of any great significance outside the sassi. However, the construction remained unfinished after his assassination in the popular riot of 29 December 1514. It has three large towers, while twelve were probably included in the original design. During some restoration work in the main square of the town, workers came across what were 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.

The Palazzo dell'Annunziata is a historical building on the main square, seat of Provincial Library.


On 17 October 2014, Matera was declared European Capital of Culture for 2019, together with Bulgaria's second-largest city, Plovdiv.


Pane di Matera Pane di Matera (cropped).jpg
Pane di Matera
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The cuisine of Matera is a typical "cucina povera" (peasant food) from Southern Italy. It features a sort of blend of Basilicata and Apulia's cuisines being in a border area between the two regions. Some specialties are "peperoni cruschi", a sweet and dry pepper variety very popular in Basilicata, and "Pane di Matera", a type of bread recognizable for its intense flavour and conical shape, granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. [14] Matera produces a homonym wine which bear the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) designation. [15]

Some dishes from the local cuisine include:


Enrique Irazoqui and Pier Paolo Pasolini in Matera, on the set of The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964 Pasolini - foto di Domenico Notarangelo.jpg
Enrique Irazoqui and Pier Paolo Pasolini in Matera, on the set of The Gospel According to St. Matthew , 1964

Because of the ancient primeval-looking scenery in and around the Sassi, it has been used by filmmakers as the setting for ancient Jerusalem. The following famous biblical period motion pictures were filmed in Matera:

Other movies filmed in the city include: [19]


Matera appears in the music videos for the songs "Sun Goes Down" (2014) by Robin Schulz [20] and "Spit Out the Bone" (2016) by Metallica. [21]

Religious traditions

Matera Cathedral Matera BW 2016-10-15 14-04-08 2.jpg
Matera Cathedral

The Feast of the Madonna della Bruna, held in Matera on 2 July each year, is notable for its religious procession featuring an ornamented chariot which is then pulled apart by spectators. The origins of the festival are not well known, because its story has changed while being handed down from generation to generation. One of these legends says that a woman asked a farmer to go up on his wagon to accompany her to Matera. When she arrived to the periphery of the city, she got off the wagon and asked farmer to take her message to the bishop. In this message she said she was Christ's mother. The bishop, the clergy and the folk rushed to receive the Virgin, but they found a statue. So the statue of Madonna entered in the city on a triumphal wagon. Another legend talks about a destruction of the wagon: Saracens besiege Matera and the citizens, to protect the painting of Madonna, hid it on a little wagon. They then destroyed the wagon to keep the Saracens from taking the painting. [22]

Different hypotheses are attributed to the name of Madonna della Bruna : the first says that the noun derives from the Lombard high-medieval term brùnja (armor/protection of knights). So the name might mean Madonna of defense. Another hypothesis is that the name comes from herbon, a city of Giudea, where the Virgin went to visit her cousin Elisabetta. A third hypothesis says that the name comes from the colour of the Virgin's face. The profane insertions such as the navalis wagon and its violent destruction, along with the intimacy and the religious solemnity, suggest this festival shares roots with ancient traditions of other Mediterranean countries. For example, in Greek culture, wedding parties also celebrate with a triumphal wagon (ships on wheels richly designed). [23] The Madonna's sculpture is located in a case in the transept of the cathedral dedicated to her, where there is also a fresco that portrays her. It dates back to the 13th century and it belongs to the Byzantine school. [24]

Notable people


Matera is the terminal station of the Bari-Matera, a narrow gauge railroad managed by Ferrovie Appulo Lucane. The nearest airport is Bari Airport. Matera is connected to the A14 Bologna-Taranto motorway through the SS99 national road. It is also served by the SS407, SS665 and SS106 national road.

Bus connection to Italy's main cities is provided by private firms.


Twin towns – sister cities

Matera is twinned with: [25] [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

Basilicata Region of Italy

Basilicata, also known by its ancient name Lucania, is an administrative region in Southern Italy, bordering on Campania to the west, Apulia to the north and east, and Calabria to the south. It has two coastlines: a 30-km stretch on the Tyrrhenian Sea between Campania and Calabria, and a longer coastline along the Gulf of Taranto between Calabria and Apulia. The region can be thought of as the "instep" of Italy, with Calabria functioning as the "toe" and Apulia the "heel".

Province of Matera Province of Italy

The province of Matera is a province in the Basilicata region of Italy. Its capital is the city of Matera. It has an area of 3,447 square kilometres (1,331 sq mi) and a total population of 201,133; the city Matera has a population of 61,204. There are 31 comunes in the province. The province of Matera is bordered by the province of Potenza in the west and south, the region of Calabria also to the south, the region of Apulia to the east and north, and by the Ionian Sea to the southeast.

Altamura Comune in Apulia, Italy

Altamura is a town and comune of Apulia, in southern Italy. It is located on one of the hills of the Murge plateau in the Metropolitan City of Bari, 45 kilometres southwest of Bari, close to the border with Basilicata. As of 2017, its population amounts to 70,595 inhabitants.

Sassi di Matera

The Sassi di Matera are two districts of the Italian city of Matera, Basilicata, well-known for their ancient cave dwellings inhabited since the Paleolithic period.

The music of Basilicata is sparse at the moment. There is little theatrical or staged musical tradition, and the facilities have not yet fully recovered from the 1980 Irpinia earthquake. Yet, the area has some interesting things to offer musically.

Montescaglioso Comune in Basilicata, Italy

Montescaglioso is a town and comune in the Province of Matera, Basilicata, southern Italy.

Castellaneta Comune in Apulia, Italy

Castellaneta is a city and comune in the province of Taranto, in the Apulia region of Southern Italy, about 40 km (25 mi) from Taranto. Located in a territory spanning from the Murgia to the Ionian Sea, characterized by numerous gravina (ravines), it is part of the Comunità Montana della Murgia Tarantina.

Gravina in Puglia Comune in Apulia, Italy

Gravina in Puglia is a town and comune of the Metropolitan City of Bari, Apulia, southern Italy.

Ruvo di Puglia Comune in Apulia, Italy

Ruvo di Puglia is a town and comune in the Metropolitan City of Bari, Apulia, southern Italy, that is essentially devoted to agriculture, wine and olive growing. It is part of the Murge karst landscape.

Alta Murgia National Park

The Parco Nazionale dell'Alta Murgia is a national park in Apulia, southern Italy, established in 2004. It lies in the Murgia geographical area, with its headquarters in the town of Gravina in Puglia, and has an area of 677.39 square kilometres. It is part of a larger Special Protection Area established to protect the grass steppe, lesser kestrel's habitat.

Altopiano delle Murge

The Altopiano delle Murge is a karst topographic plateau of rectangular shape in southern Italy. Most of it lies within Apulia and corresponds with the sub-region known as Murgia or Le Murge. The plateau lies mainly in the Metropolitan City of Bari and the province of Barletta-Andria-Trani, but extends into the provinces of Brindisi and Taranto to the south; and into Matera in Basilicata to the west. The name is believed to originate from the Latin murex, meaning "sharp stone".

Pallone di Gravina A firm, cows milk cheese from the regions of Basilicata and Apulia in south-east Italy

The Pallone di Gravina is a firm, semi-hard, cow's milk cheese from the regions of Basilicata and Apulia in south-east Italy. It is made in the pasta filata style weighing between 1.5 and 2.5 kg, in a pear-like shape, ball or balloon (pallone), and was traditionally produced in the area of the city of Gravina, in the Murgia area of the province of Bari. Today, however, production is centred on the province of Matera.

Gravina (river)

The Gravina is a river in the Apulia and Basilicata regions of southern Italy. Its source is near Poggiorsini and the border of the province of Barletta-Andria-Trani in the province of Bari. The river flows southeast near Gravina in Puglia before crossing into the province of Matera. It flows west of Matera before emptying into the Bradano as a left tributary a short distance after the Bradano exits Lago di San Giuliano.

Matera Cathedral

Matera Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Matera, Basilicata, Italy. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary under the designation of the Madonna della Bruna and to Saint Eustace. Formerly the seat of the Bishops, later Archbishops, of Matera, it is now the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Matera-Irsina.

Montursi Frazione in Apulia, Italy

Montursi is a frazione or section of the comune of Gioia del Colle, in the Province of Bari, Apulia, southern Italy. It has approximately 700 inhabitants.

U.S.D. Irsinese Calcio Matera was an Italian association football club located in Irsina, Basilicata.

The Church of San Leonardo, Italian: Chiesa di San Leonardo, is a cave church in the rione of Sasso Caveoso of Matera, in Basilicata in southern Italy. It takes its name from a fresco of San Leonardo. The church is deconsecrated, and was until recently used as a bakery. The date of foundation of the church is unknown; it was first documented in 1543–44, when it was without a door and repairs were ordered.

Metropolitan City of Bari Metropolitan City in Apulia, Italy

The Metropolitan City of Bari is a metropolitan city in the Apulia region of Italy. Its capital is the city of Bari. It replaced the Province of Bari and includes the city of Bari and some forty other municipalities (comuni). It was first created by the reform of local authorities and then established by the Law 56/2014. It has been operative since January 1, 2015.

Banca Popolare di Puglia e Basilicata S.C.p.A. is an Italian cooperative bank based in Altamura, in the Province of Bari, Apulia.

San Pietro Caveoso

San Pietro Caveoso, also known as "Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church" is a Catholic worship place situated in the Sassi of Matera.


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  2. "Total Resident Population on 1st January 2018 by sex and marital status. Municipality: Matera". National Institute of Statistics (Italy) . Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  3. Leonardo A. Chisena, Matera dalla civita al piano: stratificazione, classi sociali e costume politico, Congedo, 1984, p.7
  4. Anne Parmly Toxey (2016). "Recasting Materan Identity: The Warring And Melding Of Political Ideologies Carved In Stone". In Micara, Ludovico; Petruccioli, Attilio; Vadini, Ettore (eds.). The Mediterranean Medina: International Seminar. Gangemi Editore spa. ISBN   9788849290134 . Retrieved April 14, 2019.
  5. Domenico, Roy Palmer (2002). The Regions of Italy: A Reference Guide to History and Culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 37. ISBN   9780313307331.
  6. Toxey, Anne Parmly (2013). Materan Contradictions: Architecture, Preservation and Politics. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 36. ISBN   9781409482666 . Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  7. Colin Amery and Brian Curran, Vanishing Histories, Harry N. Abrams, New York, NY: 2001, p. 44.
  8. World Monuments Fund – Rupestrian Churches of Puglia and the City of Matera
  9. "Piazza Vittorio Veneto". Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  10. Museo Laboratorio della Civiltà Contadina ONLUS (2014) [1st. Pub. 2007]. Water-harvesting systems of Matera, from Neolithic to the first half of XX century. Matera. ISBN   978-1500611569.
  11. Circolo culturale La Scaletta (1966). Le Chiese rupestri di Matera. De Luca ed.
  12. Mario Tommaselli (1986). Le masserie fortificate del materano. De Luca ed.
  13. The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World (13 ed.). London: Times Books. 2011. p. 78 K2. ISBN   9780007419135.
  14. "Bread of Matera, a world patrimony". November 14, 2016. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  15. "The Wines Of Basilicata". Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  16. "Traditions". Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  17. "Bread from Matera". Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  18. "'La Pignata' - A Materan Classic". February 28, 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  19. "Matera e il Cinema". Matera Private Tours. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  20. Lilja Haefele (October 6, 2014). "Robin Schulz "Sun Goes Down" (Lilja, dir.)". Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  21. "Matera nel nuovo video dei Metallica". November 18, 2016. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
  22. Rota, Lorenzo (2001). Matera : the History of a Town. Matera: Giannatelli. p. 342. ISBN   9788897906001.
  23. "The Feast of the Madonna della Bruna". Festa della Bruna. 2018. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  24. Morelli, Michele (2006). La festa della Bruna. Matera: Adecom. ISBN   9788897906001.
  25. "Un'associazione per Romeo Sarra". (in Italian). La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno. May 31, 2014. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  26. "Toms River Partners With Italian City To Promote Tourism, Cultural Exchanges". Patch. March 7, 2015. Retrieved May 4, 2021.

Other sources