Historical palaces


The ancient palaces tell of the history, the style, and the role of the most famous families of the City of the Sassi.
In Matera, among the many architectures that reveal its past, persisting in the present, the historic palaces certainly stand out.
Among the most important in Matera are the 17th-century Palazzo Lanfranchi, home to the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata, close to the Piazzetta Pascoli square, in addition to the Palazzo del Sedile, which overlooks the square of the same name and which houses the city’s Conservatory dedicated to the musician Egidio Romualdo Duni.
The “Tommaso Stigliani” Provincial Library is also located in the Palazzo dell’Annunziata, in the central Piazza Vittorio Veneto square.

Matera movie tour

Matera like Jerusalem

From Matera, the set of film sets, begins a journey of discovery of the most evocative locations chosen by the great international filmmakers. The “manger of miracles” is unveiled by the directors who staged their story of Jesus Christ in those places that are so symbolic of the centuries-old city: The Gospel according to St. Matthew by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1964), King David by Bruce Beresford (1985), The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson (2003) and The Nativity Story by Catherine Hardwicke (2006). The tour covers all the most important sites of the evangelical narrative: spaces and places that on the silver screen have revealed all their splendour, delighting our eyes and moving our hearts.

Via Muro
Panoramic, stunning, spectacular. Via Muro is the starting point of the tour on the Passion of Christ which has hosted the great directors Mel Gibson and Catherine Hardwicke. In the film The Passion of the Christ, Via Muro is the place on the Way of the Cross where, in the midst of his Calvary, Jesus begins his journey towards his destiny. Although he denies it, Mel Gibson allowed himself to be inspired by the great Pier Paolo Pasolini who had previously chosen Matera for its similarity to Palestine. The maestro and poet, who inaugurated biblical films in the city of the Sassi, chose instead Via Lombardi to film the scenes of the Way of the Cross. A road where humanity and spirituality blend together, leaving space for the imagination and the unending horizon of Golgotha. In her film on the Nativity, Catherine Hardwicke designed a set around the spectacular flight of steps in Via Muro with a great door, exotic palm trees and stalls for the sale of wares, turning it into a meeting place and market for the inhabitants of the village. Via Muro stretches as far as the ancient quarter of Civitas, where the cathedral arises majestically, with Piazza San Pietro Caveoso, where the church of San Pietro Caveoso stands, towering above the canyon. Here along Via Muro is where the Prince’s stately home was set for the American remake of “Ben Hur” (2015).

San Pietro Caveoso
Piazza San Pietro Caveoso, immortalised by great directors both Italian and foreign, was a location chosen also for other stage sets, by the Taviani brothers in their masterly film Il Sole anche di notte (1990), by Giuseppe Tornatore in L’uomo delle stelle (1995) and by Ferdinando Arrabbal in the film L’albero di Guernica (1975). Piazza San Pietro Caveoso was also used as the setting for the entrance to the Roman Camp of Jerusalem in the film “Ben Hur” (2015), as well as for the outdoor market, rich with spices, urns and ancient braziers in the film dedicated to the super hero “Nightingale” (2016).

Malve District
At the back of Piazza San Pietro Caveoso you go towards the Malve Quarter, an evocative film location where, in the Hol- lywood director Gibson’s film, the commercial activities of Je- rusalem are carried out. Stalls, exotic plants and utensils, jugs and furnishings of the time decorated the set of the ancient marketplace and the homes of Jerusalem. The place has a wealth of interest and history, and amidst the rock churches and deep caves, the tribulations of the film King David were also set. And the collosal American film “Ben Hur”.

Porta Pistola
The crossroads between the Sassi and Porta Postèrgola, better known as Porta Pistola, looks over the spectacular gullies of the canyon where the Gravina river flows.
The place, chosen by both Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mel Gibson, represents the Gates to the city of Jerusalem, the Holy Land, prepared with a monumental set design characterised by Ara- bic-style architectural elements.

Madonna delle Virtu’ and San Nicola dei Greci
Just a few steps away from the Gates of Jerusalem arises a marvellous rock complex: Madonna delle Virtù and San Nicola dei Greci where the scene of the Last Supper was filmed in the Hollywood epic.
Words of love alternate with blood and nails, the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the whole of humanity before the cross is planted in the ground and raised on Golgotha, in Murgia Park, for his death and Resurrection.

Murgia Park
Murgia Park, with its natural, historical and ecological patrimony, is of exceptional value on a universal level. Beyond the canyon, like an island, it bursts into space without boundaries or obstacles. The scenery speaks of human tribulations from the very origin of life until our times, and its immense landscapes have inspired directors and writers. It was in the area of San Vito that Pier Paolo Pasolini decided to set the scene of the Holy Sepulchre and the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel. In The Passion of the Christ, on the other hand, the life of Jesus as a child is depicted, in an intense and mystical flashback, in one of the rural buildings of the area, Radogna Farm.
Also Catherine Hardwicke reconstructed the village of Bethlehem in the Murgia Park – in the rock church of San Pietro in Princibus – and, in Selva Venusio, the village of Nazareth. Full of spirituality, it was also used for the set of the film “The Young Messia” (2015). Used as the setting for the place where Morgan Freeman’s character was imprisoned in “Ben Hur” (2015), the Park of the Materan Moors was also immortalized in some of the adrenaline-filled scenes from the film “Veloce Come il Vento” (2016). It was also here that Amazon women galloped on horseback, set against the backdrop of the Moors, not far from the church of the Madonna delle Vergini, from the film “Wonder Woman” (2016).

It is in Murgia Timone that Golgotha rises. Evocative and mystical, it was the setting for the Crucifixion scenes in the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mel Gibson.
The Golgotha prepared by Hardwick sees the crosses as representing the death sentence of the time. Golgotha is the last stop in Matera on the biblical theme movie tour which leaves, in the eyes of the spectators, the enchanting images of the manger of miracles.

Rock churches of Matera


The Parco della Murgia Materana, also known as the Historical Natural Park of the Rock Churches of Matera, boasts a natural and spiritual heritage of exceptional value, thanks to its over one hundred and fifty cave churches included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1993 Some of these places of worship date back to the Romanesque period and are richly decorated with frescoes and wonderful architectural elements such as apses, quatrefoils, capitals and arches, made even more beautiful by small domes.
Outside the city, in Pietrapenta, lies the Cripta del Peccato Originale (Crypt of the Original Sin), known as the “Sistine Chapel” of rock-hewn churches. The Crypt is decorated with mural paintings of the Benedictine-Beneventan style, dating back to the 8th-9th centuries AD. An extraordinary cycle of frescoes which depicts, among others, episodes of the Creation and the Original Sin.
Many of the rock churches within the Sassi districts can be visited. Santa Lucia alle Malve, located inside a monastery of Benedictine nuns, had been a place of worship until 1283. The interior boasts frescoes of great historical-artistic value. The adjoining churches of Santa Maria de Idris and San Giovanni in Monterrone, both located on a spur that rises from the cave-dwellings of the Sasso Caveoso, have valuable frescoes dating back to the 12th and 17th centuries.
The large monastic complex of Madonna delle Virtù e San Nicola dei Greci, is one of the most important examples of what is known as “negative space architecture” and is used as a venue for prestigious contemporary art exhibitions. It is worth mentioning the Chiesa di Santa Barbara, a rock church consisting of 3 spaces: narthex, presbytery and apse. The exterior features some ancient tombs carved out of the rock.
The Convicinio di Sant’Antonio is a unique example of rock complex consisting of four ancient churches: San Primo, Sant’Egidio (also known as Chiesa dell’Annunziata), San Donato and Sant’Antonio Abate. They are connected to each other by a wide yard, and each of them is richly decorated with interesting religious frescoes.

Churches on the plan


Among the churches located in the historical centre and along the city’s viewpoints, offering stunning vistas over the Sassi, the Cathedral definitely stands out. The church is dedicated to the patron saints of the city, the Madonna della Bruna and Sant’Eustachio (1230/1270). Must-see sites include the Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi, the Chiesa del Purgatorio and the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (1233), which is considered one of the most beautiful sacred places in the city. In Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the town centre, the Chiesa di San Domenico, with its outstanding 13th-century rose window, is located next to the Convento dei Padri Predicatori, which today is the official residence of the prefect.

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Parks and Nature around Matera

Near Matera there are parks of unique beauty where it is possible to practice outdoor activities or attend thematic events.

The relationship between man and nature, in the Matera area, has the sinuosity of the Natural Historical Archaeological Regional Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera, a World Heritage Site since 1993 together with the ancient Sassi districts, and the immensity of the San Giuliano Regional Reserve. Both represent the green and at the same time harsh soul of the Matera landscape.

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The Churches of Matera

Among the churches located in the historical centre and along the city’s viewpoints, offering stunning vistas over the Sassi, the Cathedral definitely stands out. The church is dedicated to the patron saints of the city, the Madonna della Bruna and Sant’Eustachio (1230/1270).  Must-see sites include the Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi, the Chiesa del Purgatorio and the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (1233), which is considered one of the most beautiful sacred places in the city. In Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the town centre, the Chiesa di San Domenico, with its outstanding 13th-century rose window, is located next to the Convento dei Padri Predicatori, which today is the official residence of the prefect.

Churches on the plan

Rupestrian Churces

Movie sets in Matera

Matera, the so-called Jerusalem of Lucania, has been host to many biblical movies including Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), and King David (1985), directed by Bruce Beresford and starring Richard Gere. Matera featured as Bethlehem and Nazareth in Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story (2006). The famed city has also acted as the setting for a variety of films from Neorealist films, which made use of the poverty in the Sassi in the mid-twentieth century, to the Night Sun (1990), directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani and based on the work of Russian author Tolstoy, and Italia ’61 (1961), directed by Jan Lenica, which showed a 360° view of Matera using the technique of circle vision. Scenes fromThe Omen (2006) by John Moore, a horror film about the antichrist, were also shot in Matera while Francesco Rosi’s fairytale, C’era Una Volta (1967), featuring Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif, was filmed in the region.

In 2015 and 2017 respectively, Matera also provided the setting for the films “Let’s get married” and “Wonder Woman”. In 2018, the City of the Sassi was chosen among the main locations of the film “The King’s Musketeers” by director Giovanni Veronesi, starring Pierfrancesco Favino, Rocco Papaleo, Valerio Mastandrea and Maria Maddalena di Davis.
Currently set for release in 2021 is “James Bond: No Time to Die” by director Cary Fukunaga, which once again sees Daniel Craig as the most famous secret agent in cinema history.


I sassi di Matera

The ‘Sassi’ district

Two natural amphitheatres entirely carved out of the rock: the ‘Sasso Barisano’, to the north-west, and the ‘Sasso Caveoso’, to the south. The ‘Civita’ district, which is the oldest inhabited group of buildings, dominates on the ‘Sassi di Matera’, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.

Narrow lanes, alleys and stairways winding through the cave districts, arches and galleries, large terraces, bell towers and rock churches form the ancient inhabited centre of Matera, the 2019 European Capital of Culture, also known as ‘Città dei Sassi’ (City of Stone).

The Sassi originated from small inhabited settlements that developed around several places of worship, beyond the boundaries of the ancient defensive walls of the Civita, which is the oldest institutional, religious and commercial district.   The Civita divides the two Sassi areas: the Sasso Caveoso, mostly made up of cave-houses, and the Sasso Barisano, which is largely formed by traditional houses, built using more complex building techniques.

During the day, the dazzle of the sun on the white rock will amaze you; at night, when the moonlight shines on the Sassi, you will experience the unique feeling of being within a huge crib, dotted with hundreds of small lights.  The Sassi are provided with a water system that collects both rainwater and spring waters; in the past, it was made up of a network of channels and cisterns, able to bring water both to homes and surrounding areas.

Wander around this unique townscape, in the early afternoon, and hear the muffled echo of people’s voices, the ringing bells of the numerous churches that surround the Sassi, as if they were suspended in time.   This is the feeling you will experience when looking at the timeless beauty of the Sassi and the Historical Natural Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera, which is found on the opposite side of the plateau.  Matera offers some unique scenery, an emotional and cultural landscape with multiple levels built over time. Stunning cave-dwellings, dug out of the rock, are surrounded by more than 150 rock churches; alleys and narrow streets wind their way through elegant buildings and houses, making the city a unique destination of tourists from every part of the world.

History of Matera

The history of Matera begins in distant times, ranging from prehistoric times to the various metal ages up to the advent of Christianity.

Matera is considered one of the oldest cities in the world as into the Gravine Materane several objects dating back to Paleolithic age have been found.

The discoveries by Domenico Ridola, a doctor with a passion for archeology, founder of the National Archaeological Museum of Matera, highly accredit the human presence since the Paleolithic. Evident traces of villages dating back to the Neolithic, on the Murgia Timone, Murgecchia, Serra d’Alto and on the Civita hill suggest in that period the settlements became more stable.

After going through the phases of prehistory, including the different metal ages, Christianity characterized the history of Matera. Small monastic communities emigrated following Iconoclasm from Cappadocia, Armenia, Asia Minor and Syria. They took refuge in the already existing caves, they built others and used them as homes and places of prayer. Thus the splendid Rock Churches were born, precious treasures of art and culture.

“Around Matera: from Murgia Park to the Crypt Of Original Sin” Itinerary


In 1993, UNESCO included not only the Sassi di Matera but also the Murgia plateau, and in particular the area of the Archaeological, Historical and Natural Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera, in the list of World Heritage Sites.
Therefore, a visit to this place is a must in order to fully understand the peculiarities of the history and natural environment of the Matera area.
Covering some 8,000 hectares and established by regional law in 1990, the Park, also commonly known as the Murgia Park, contains many exceptional elements of archaeological, cultural, historical, artistic and natural interest.
Along the road leading from Matera to the Murgia Timone area, a road axis built following the development of the ancient Via Appia, you can see, on the right, a number of tuff quarries, which characterise the immediate surroundings of the city.
Among these, “Cava Paradiso” certainly stands out, very special because it has become a container for contemporary art: it houses a sculpture park, called La Palomba Sculpture Park, created on the initiative of the contemporary sculptor Antonio Paradiso. Majestic works in limestone and corten steel are “on display”, among which, not to be missed, is “L’ultima Cena Globalizzata” (The Global Last Supper), made from some beams of the Twin Towers, remains of the tragic event of 11 September 2001.
The itinerary in the Park area starts from Jazzo Gattini, a masonry sheepfold dating back to the 18th century, built of tuff blocks, evidence of the shepherding activity that has always been one of the most important productive components of the Murgia economy. Jazzo Gattini also contains the ‘casone’, the place where cheese and dairy products were made. Today it is the headquarters of the CEA, Centre for Environmental Education.
Leaving the Jazzo, head left along a path that leads to the Neolithic Village of Murgia Timone, undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and impressive archaeological sites in the Murgia Park. Situated on a gentle hill, a little over 400 metres above sea level, this site is an example of a Neolithic settlement with a trench, which is dug into the rock, about 2 metres deep and wide, and is the sign and evidence of a long and complex digging process. Inside the trench the holes for the hut posts can be seen. It is not possible to say how many huts there were or how many people lived in the village, but it certainly must have been an important settlement. A monumental double-circle tomb was found along the trench, made in a later period, with a small artificial cavity surrounded by a double circle of stones.
Returning along the path, we reach Masseria Radogna, a typical tower building from the end of the 19th century, consisting of two storeys and equipped with various accessory structures that bear witness to agricultural and shepherding activities: cisterns for storing water with a network of canals, jazzi (corrals) built into dry-stone walls and threshing floors for processing grain. The route through the park winds its way through paths teeming with vegetation: there are 900 species of plants, including typical Mediterranean maquis plants (mastic, terebinth, juniper), aromatic herbs (thyme, from which the name Murgia Timone derives, rosemary, oregano), plants unpalatable to herbivores such as asphodelus and ferula, and native plants such as Ophrys Matheolana (wild orchid). From April to October, if you look up, you can see the Lesser Kestrel, the smallest species of falcon, now the symbol of the Murgia Park. From December to June, it is not unlikely to come across Podolica cows roaming free, as they are reared in a semi-wild state.
There are numerous rupestrian (rock) churches in the Murgia Park area, some of which are not easy to reach. One of those that can be reached without difficulty is the San Falcione rupestrian complex, a very interesting site because it consists of three different rooms, including the church, which, due to its architectural development in the form of a rectangular hall, is considered one of the oldest in Murgia (11th century).
This rock site, like many others in the area, was later used as a sheepfold, as is evident from the perimeter wall and the presence of rooms used for housing sheep (with openings through which the animals were counted) and for cheese-making. The itinerary proceeds until it reaches the Murgia Timone viewpoint, where the uniqueness of the Sassi can be admired.
Near the place first used by Pasolini and then by Mel Gibson as “Golgotha” in their masterpieces, there is another rupestrian church, Madonna delle Tre Porte.
The church now has only two of the three apsidal naves entirely carved into the rock, the outermost having been destroyed by repeated collapses. Particularly noteworthy, on the walls of the church, is the presence of numerous graffitied crosses testifying to the passage of numerous pilgrims through this area.
In the area around Matera, don’t miss a visit to a truly exceptional site, the Crypt of the Original Sin, a rupestrian church located along the ridge of the ravine and defined, due to its extraordinary set of 9th-century frescoes depicting the Genesis, as the Sistine Chapel of rupestrian wall painting: taking in the colours painted on the walls of this church is undoubtedly the best way to end this itinerary around the city of the Sassi.
Thirty-five kilometres of blue sea lapping the coastline of fine golden sand characterise the Ionian coast of Basilicata, where the intense colour of the water blends with the vivid green of the Mediterranean scrub.
The extraordinary fertility of the Ionian coastline has been known since antiquity. Indeed, the coastal area between the Bradano and Basento rivers was chosen by Greek settlers around eight centuries before Christ to found Metapontum, today’s Metaponto. According to the geographer Strabo, it was the Greek hero Nestor, returning from the Trojan War, who gave life to the city.
The Greek colonists were merchants, farmers, livestock breeders, artisans, who decided to emigrate in the interest of establishing new commercial activities, but the motivation to leave Greece was also due to social tensions generated by the increase in population that the meagre local agricultural production could no longer support.
Thanks to the extraordinary fertility of its countryside, Metapontum soon became one of the most powerful cities of Magna Graecia, as the colonised areas of the Italian peninsula were called, testifying to the pride of the Greek colonists in having created a community that had reached such high levels in the social, cultural and economic spheres that it could be considered, by comparison, greater than the mother country itself.
Metapontum immediately became an important agricultural and commercial centre, but the Greek settlers also imported Hellenic culture, so that art, literature and philosophy flourished in the newly founded cities in addition to trade. Metapontum itself was chosen by the great Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who held a school here in 490 BC and lived here until his death.
The Ionian Sea tells of flourishing trade, but also of great battles. Over the years, it was sailed by fleets of ships and there were many wars between the numerous colonies on the Ionian coast and the local populations. With the Hannibalic wars and the arrival of the Romans, the splendour of Metapontum was overshadowed. The Romans conquered the area and built an encampment there, traces of which remain until the 4th century AD.
Today, that ancient splendour is reflected in the numerous finds, ruins and buildings that make the city one of the most important archaeological sites in Italy. The symbol of Metaponto, a hamlet of Bernalda, and its archaeological park are undoubtedly the Tavole Palatine (‘Palatine Tables’). Fifteen columns remain of the temple of Hera, wife and sister of Zeus, built in the 6th century in the Doric style, making it one of the greatest testimonies of worship in Magna Graecia.
In addition to the Palatine Tables, the Archaeological Park contains the remains of the temples of Apollo Lycius, Aphrodite and Athena, part of the agora, the artisanal district for the production of ceramics (kerameikos) and the great north-south road axis (plateia). Not far away you can also admire the agora dedicated to Zeus, the site of public buildings used for meetings and gatherings, and the large theatre with its semicircular cavea.
Traces of a considerable number of monuments that marked the civil and religious life of the colony are recognisable throughout.