Matera: The “Piano” and the Historical Centre Itinerary

The city of Matera also offers interesting places to visit outside the famous Sassi districts. A very attractive area is the so-called Piano, the flat area of more recent urban development, which frames the upper edge of the Sassi.
The itinerary starts from Piazzetta Giovanni Pascoli square, dedicated to the Romagna poet who taught Latin and Greek here between 1881 and 1882, known to the people of Matera as “Piazza del Liceo”: here stands Palazzo Lanfranchi (17th century), the first large building on the Piano, first a seminary and then the site of the city’s classical high school. Today, the building houses the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata, which, among other sections, has an important gallery of works by Neapolitan artists and a large selection of paintings by Carlo Levi, including the famous 18-metre-long panel ‘Lucania ’61’, which stands out for its size and pictorial quality.
Piazza Pascoli square offers a unique view of the Sasso Caveoso and the surrounding Murgia plateau.
Via Ridola leads to the National Archaeological Museum, housed in the former Baroque convent of Santa Chiara (17th century) and established in 1911, when the local archaeologist Domenico Ridola, after whom the museum is named, donated his collections to the State, the fruit of important research carried out in the Matera area. The museum houses and exhibits significant finds from the Matera and Lucana areas, extraordinary evidence of the numerous stratifications that have taken place in this area since the Palaeolithic period. Continuing along Via Ridola, turning right, we reach Piazza del Sedile square, after passing the Chiesa del Purgatorio and the Chiesa di San Francesco di Assisi churches: the former, built in the 18th century, is the only one in the city with a curvilinear façade, with skulls, skeletons and numerous references to death and penance; the latter, on the other hand, is a medieval church, built in the 13th century, but completely remodelled in the 18th century, in Rococo style, as can be admired today.
Piazza del Sedile square, centrally located between the two Sassi, Caveoso to the south and Barisano to the north, was the political and economic heart of the city in the 16th century. It was home to the Palazzo del Sedile, then the town hall, and today houses the Music Conservatory named after the Matera musician Egidio Romualdo Duni.
Walking along Via Duomo, a unique view of the Sasso Barisano opens up on the left, an enchanting and singular scene, especially at sunset. This brings us to Piazza Duomo square, where the city’s cathedral stands, built in Romanesque-Gothic style in the 13th century and dedicated to Matera’s two patron saints, Saint Eustace and the Madonna della Bruna. Built entirely of tuff blocks (calcarenite), its interior is divided into three naves, which were almost completely remodelled between the 17th and 18th centuries and are now in Baroque style. However, some elements of the original decoration of the medieval structure can still be admired, such as the fresco depicting the Last Judgement attributed to Rinaldo da Taranto (early 14th century) and that of the Madonna della Bruna (13th century), placed on an imposing Baroque altar, carefully inlaid, made in Naples. The cathedral has various altars and chapels on both sides: not to be missed is the one known as ‘del presepe’ (of the nativity scene) because it houses a fine 16th-century stone nativity scene made by the Montescaglioso artist Altobello Persio.
Next to the cathedral, in Via Riscatto, where the Count of Matera, Giancarlo Tramontano, was killed in 1514, is the Diocesan Museum (Mata), opened in 2011, with three large rooms displaying works of sacred art, particularly silverware from the cathedral treasury.
From the square, following Via Duomo downhill, you reach Via delle Beccherie, a street that has recently been restored, enhanced and revitalised with the arrival of a number of craft shops, clothing shops and restaurants.
Via delle Beccherie leads to Matera’s main square, Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the city’s living room, dominated by an imposing building, the Palazzo dell’Annunziata, a former 18th-century convent, which now houses the provincial library and the public information point of the Basilicata region (Open space APT).
From the square, precisely from the Guerricchio viewpoint, you can admire the beauty of the Sasso Barisano and Civita, the area at the top of which stands the Cathedral.
Under Piazza Vittorio Veneto there are important hypogea: don’t miss a visit to the Palombaro Lungo, a huge public water tank, entirely excavated by hand in the calcarenite bank and plastered in opus signinum, capable of holding about 5 million litres of water.
From Piazza Vittorio Veneto, take Via San Biagio to Piazza San Giovanni square, formerly known as Piazza San Rocco because of the convent of the same name.
Don’t miss a visit to the charming Church of San Giovanni Battista, dating back to the first half of the 13th century, with its unusual main façade (once a side façade) and its extraordinary capitals, richly decorated and adorned with plant motifs and anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures.
The itinerary can thus be concluded in a cosy and atmospheric setting.