Sassi housing in Matera

Old town below, new town above - spot the difference (apart from electricity, water and walls!)

Dave the motorhome has taken refuge, parked on a road that is between a tall building and a 6ft high wall in Massafra (N40.58470 E17.11147). The gale force winds are back. It’s not the ideal sleeping spot, but we’re very sheltered and all a bit shattered, so it will do us for tonight.

Last night we toasted marshmallows on our little fire pit looking out over the inky black sea. A row of flashing lights a bit further along the coast marked out the tops of the rods belonging to the competitors of the fishing competition. It finished some time after we had gone to bed, so we don’t know who won.

Toasting marshmallows on the beach in our fire pit
Toasting marshmallows on the beach in our fire pit

This morning we were up and on the road early. Our thoughts about Calabria and Basilicata were confirmed by fellow travellers who had passed this way before – we’d seen all there was to see. Taking advantage of extra quiet roads (we figure everyone was busy watching the new Pope on the telly or in church) we blasted across the country.

After months in Italy we have finally mastered the pay machines at the petrol station!
After months in Italy we have finally mastered the pay machines at the petrol station!

Just before we left Basilicata there was one stop to make, the town of Matera. Famous to those outside of Italy for being used as Jerusalem in films such as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ, it’s more infamous around here as the place where people still lived in caves until the 1950’s. The Government was so embarrassed by the description of the town in Carlo Levi’s 1945 memoir ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’ that it passed a law to forcibly remove the inhabitants of the town, who were disease-ridden, emaciated and stricken with maleria. All 15,000 of them were rehoused in modern districts around the old town, and the old town has been cleaned up. Slowly the Sassi (the cave dwellings) are being repopulated. Already a draw for tourists, businesses have snapped up the sasso (singular for sassi in case you wondered) and are doing them up as B&B’s, hotels and restaurants, oh and of course, the odd tat shop.

Old town below, new town above - spot the difference (apart from electricity, water and walls!)
Old town below, new town above – spot the difference (apart from electricity, water and walls!)
I could sit here for hours and look at this view
I could sit here for hours and look at this view

We drove around the town first, heading for a viewpoint on the other side of the ravine it looks over. As we fought the gusts of wind and clambered over the rocks for a view of the town a few angry looking blokes were fighting sound and lighting equipment into position in the many caves. A quick look on the internet told us that they were preparing for Easter, and from Tuesday each evening free plays and shows are put on, they look amazing! We can only assume the actors are micro-phoned and their voices carried across the ravine to loud speakers!

Unhappy sound and lighting crew!
Unhappy sound and lighting crew!

The caves they were lighting were previously used as churches and some of them still have the frescoes painted on the walls. A bit windswept we headed back towards the town, stopping off at an unused quarry which has been turned into a sculpture park. There are several of these quarries around the town, so we can see where they got the stone to finally build the place once they were driven from their caves.

St Anges church in a cave
St Anges church in a cave
Windswept in Matera
Windswept in Matera

After a couple of loops around the town (with satnav directing us to drive down a staircase at one point!)  it soon became clear that the motorhome parking place we were looking for next to the castle had gone. In its place was a freshly landscaped garden area waiting for the grass to grow. Acting like locals we drove a short way up the road and parked in a lay-by, next to an Italian motorhome, then set off to explore the town.

An old quarry which is now a sculpture park
An old quarry which is now a sculpture park
They even have an old Hymer sculpture in here - oh no hang on, that's Dave!
They even have an old Hymer sculpture in here – oh no hang on, that’s Dave!
Our favourite sculpture, poor VW beetle!
Our favourite sculpture, poor VW beetle!

We spent a good couple of hours wandering up and down steps, along narrow paths and just getting lost in the labyrinth of Matera. The town has an organic feel to it, no town planners and not a straight road to be found (in fact there is only one road, which has to wiggle its way through the middle). Some of the sasso  were one simple cave, others were more elaborate with many levels. We’ve been to towns like this one before, but not ones that have housed so many people until so recently.

Charlie in a breeze
Charlie braves the breeze and heights
Beady eyes were on us as we explored the town - any idea what these are?
Beady eyes were on us as we explored the town
Jay can't resist a nose to see what it's like in there
Jay can’t resist a nose to see what it’s like in there
Take from the oldest part of the Sassi. On the right is the view point we first stopped at.
Take from the oldest part of the Sassi. On the right is the view point we first stopped at.

With the weather slowly getting worse we opted to leave Matera and head for somewhere else to sleep for the night – a hilltop town is never good when it’s windy. As we charged across the battered roads I feared for my fillings as Dave shuddered. Reaching Massafra Satnav tried to take us up through the narrow streets, instead of the main road – of course. Sensing things were about to get much tighter and realising how sheltered we’d be on this stretch of road we stopped and put the kettle on.

It’s gone dark now. There are cars parked around us and others driving up the road quite frequently, but slowly (so they can swerve around the speed bump which doesn’t go all the way across the road for some reason) but it’s not too noisy and we can’t feel the wind at all. Time to get the wine out of the fridge (yes even red wine goes in the fridge so it doesn’t spill while we drive) and settle down for the night. Jay nipped out earlier to check we weren’t parked somewhere stupid – next to a train line or prison – and this is another ravine town, he said it looks good, so we’ll head off and have a look around in the morning.

Ju x

Share this post:FacebooktwitterFacebooktwitter

2 Comments

    • Needs must! He was hoping that photo wouldn’t get out, but the winnings paid for the flight, a bag of gravy bones and a night out on the Dog Beer in Dublin! Cheers from a rainy Puglia roadside, Jay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*