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Matera - Photo: www.understandingitaly.com
Although the original cave dwellings date back to prehistoric times, the town of Matheola was established by the Romans in the 3rd century BC since when it has enjoyed a varied and colourful history. AD 600
Matera was conquered by the Lombards and became part of the Duchy of Benevento.
AD 700 - 800
The caves were used as monastries by Benedictine and Greek-Orthodox monks.
AD 900 - 1000
Matera was caught up in the struggle between Saracens, Byzantines and the Germans which lead to the destruction of the city.
Matera came under Norman rule.
Having endured a series of earthquakes and plagues, Matera was occupied by the Aragonese and was gifted to the Tramontano family.
The population of Matera rebelled and killed Count Giovanni Carlo Tramontano.
Matera was handed over to the Orsini and then became part of the Terre d'Otranto di Puglia.
Matera ceased to be the capital of Basilicata as Potenza was appointed in its stead by Joseph Bonaparte, the king of Naples and elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Matera was made capital of the Matera province.
Matera became the first city in Italy to rise up against the German occupiers.
The 'Sassi' caves
The ancient town of Matera was built on the side of a ravine called 'The Gravina' which was created by a river now reduced to a small stream. Many of the famous 'Sassi' dwellings are really only caves dug into the hillside made of the calcareous rock that characterises much of the landscape of Basilicata and Puglia.
View of The Gravina from Matera
Unesco called Matera "The most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region." and made it a World Heritage Site in 1993.
Arriving in Matera - Photo: www.understandingitaly.com
After the 2nd World War, the population of Matera grew to around 16,000 and hygenic conditions deteriorated rapidly. Prime Minister, Alcide de Gaspari visited Matera in 1950 and was horrified by what he saw. He was determined to improve living conditions and throughout the 1950s the Italian government forcibly evicted residents, relocating them to better housing in the modern part of the town.
Inside one of the Sassi Caves
The strikingly primitive setting of Matera's 'Sassi' caves has been used as the setting for many biblical films, such as:
Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'The Gospel According to St. Matthew' (1964)
Bruce Beresford's 'King David' (1985)
Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' (2004)
Catherine Hardwicke's 'The Nativity Story' (2006)
Matera today is a thriving city of over 60,000 inhabitants. The modern part of the town is spacious and pleasantly laid out, housing many bars, restaurants, shops and businesses and the 'Sassi' are extremely popular with tourists from all over the world.
A more modern street in Matera
Detail and date on one of the churches
Population density: 156.0 per square km
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