A Complete Guide on How to Visit the Cave Town of Sassi di Matera Italy


Hey there, and thanks for stopping by! Some days, you just have to get in the car and take a road trip, right?! This particular week the hubby did not have practice or basketball games, so I packed us in the car and told my family that we had to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera, Italy. Living in Europe sure has its perks!

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

A Complete Guide on How to Visit the Cave Town of Sassi di Matera Italy

What is Sassi di Matera

So, what the heck is “Sassi di Matera?” Well, in Italian, “Sassi” means stones. Basically, it translates to stones of Matera. Why stones? Well, this area was first inhabited by cave dwellers who literally dug into the cliff of stones and created their homes. This is the very first human settlement in Italian history, dating back over 7000 years. No, it really is the first group of humans to live in Italy, and you can walk in their footsteps!

Where to Stay in Matera, Italy

First things first – where to stay. If you follow us, you know that I am always looking for a few things when booking hotels or apartments – parking, kitchen, WiFi, and walking distance to where I want to go. Here are a couple of unique things that you really want to think about when you visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

The ancient part of Matera, where all the old cave houses and ancient homes are, has one road that is able to be driven on. It makes a big circle from the top of the ravine to the bottom of the town and around. Everything in between has to be walked to via cobblestone steps. It is hard to reach anything in the UNESCO area except by foot… including hotels.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

That being said, doesn’t everyone want to stay in an authentic cave dwelling and smack dab in the center of a World UNESCO Site?! If so, my pick for you is Residence San Pietro!

This place literally ROCKS, hee hee. It is built into a rock, and it is as authentic as you can get. It has parking, a kitchen, and WiFi. It is clean and cool in every sense; remember, it’s a cave and an amazing experience. They have a range of apartment sizes to meet your needs. Breakfast is included; they have a restaurant on site, and they have no problem if you bring your furry friends along, too! It is totally worth the hike for this once-in-a-lifetime stay! (See the photo below.) You can compare prices of hotels here.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

Okay, now that we have dropped off our bags, let’s visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera, Italy NOW!

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

History of Matera Italy

The ancient town came about as the cave dwellers dug into the hill above the river below. The ravine, “la gravina”, used to be a grand and lively river full of fish which attracted wild animals, hunters, and gatherers to its banks. Now, it is only a small stream that you see below the town, but you can see how it has carved the valley over thousands of years.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

Except for Petra (Jordan), Matera is the oldest settlement in history that has been continuously inhabited from settlement until today! In fact, Matera, Italy, is the only place in the world where people can say they are actually living in the houses of their 7000-year-old ancestors.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

In the 1920’s and 30’s, Mussolini exiled his political opponents to this isolated corner of Italy because it was not a wonderful place to live. In fact, Matera was a slum and in an area of horrible poverty. Many of the homes built into the cliffs should have been deemed uninhabitable.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

The Cave Dwellings of Matera

A typical cave dwelling would have a dirt floor, a place to cook, one bed for the entire family, and an area for the family donkey. Sewage, living with animals, and poor ventilation caused widespread decay and malaria.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

In the 50’s and early 60’s, the remaining cave dwellers were removed from their homes and forced to relocate to cleaner, newer apartments out of the ancient Sassi area. The area became forgotten and abandoned, crumbling into despair.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

Then, in the 80’s, the EU started putting money into Southern Italy to restore some of its historical sights. Money meant the ancient homes could be refurbished and roads and utilities could be updated. People moved back to their ancient roots and started to refurbish their properties.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

In 1993, UNESCO named the area a World Heritage Site, and the once slums started turning into an incredible tourist destination.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

In 2003, Mel Gibson sealed the proverbial deal for Sassi di Matera when he decided to film The Passion of Christ here. If you have seen the film you will recognize many sights as you wander the cobblestone streets.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

One sight you should stop to see is the San Nicola dei Greci church where the scene for the Last Supper was filmed.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

Matera has over 150 churches, and it’s a gorgeous town to wander through. You can feel the history as you wander. There are some great tours that have locals taking you through the streets and telling you the amazing stories of Matera. My recommendation is the Matera walking tour, it literally ROCKS!

You can find all the tours of Matera and compare prices here 
A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

Visit the Cave Town of Sassi di Matera Italy

By 2015, tourists began to hear of the town; even publications such as The New Yorker and Smithsonian had Matera on its radar.

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

In 2019, the city is the designated European capital of culture. Matera will hold this recognition for one year and is preparing for the distinction and celebration as we speak!

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

Today, it is a chic, authentic, and inviting destination that appeals to history buffs, jet setters, and even family travelers. However, it is still relatively unknown and unspoiled (meaning, you should visit Matera, Italy, now!)

A complete guide on how to visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera Italy

We loved it, and just know that you will, too.

What else can we help you with in Matera?

Getting there – The nearest airport is Bari, which you can fly into from multiple places in Europe. To compare flights and prices into Bari, check JetRadar for hot tickets, specials, and the best prices in Europe.

You can also fly into Rome, or another city, and drive down; it is a beautiful drive and a good way to see a lot of Italy. You can compare price of the best car rentals here.

The city map and app of Matera

There is a local city map, and you can download it here – map of Matera, Italy. The app for Matera is here; it is a free guide to the city. We have used it, and while it is not as complete as a tour, it is helpful and good for those who like to do it themselves. Remember, they are still learning this whole tourism thing!

Why you should Visit Matera Italy Now

Dining when you visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera, Italy  There are many trattorias, osterias, pizzerias, and restaurants sprinkled through the historic district. For a full breakdown of how to dine out in Italy, click here!

Just outside of the UNESCO Site is Trattoria Lucana. Their claim to fame is that it was Mel Gibson’s favorite restaurant. There are photos of him on the wall, too! The key to knowing the food is good is if the restaurant is full of locals, which it was! We ate there, and the food is great, the espresso is strong, and the desserts are sweet and creamy. We walked in really late and were lucky to get a table; at the end of dinner, the waiter brought us a slew of desserts so the boys could try everything on the menu! The service was top notch and we would for sure return here!

Pimsleur Italian

Language – You will be hard-pressed to find people who speak English. With that being said, brush up on your Italian with an Italian language courseWe are able to communicate in seven languages after using the Pimsleur language programs. They are easy to understand, great for traveling conversations, and totally refundable if you are not satisfied with the program! 

Have we left anything out on why you should visit the cave town of Sassi di Matera, Italy?  Anything else that you want to know? If so, drop me question in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

icon– Stacey

Please be advised – Baskets Life Travel is an affiliate partner of multiple programs to bring you the best prices on cool products, locations, hotels, car rentals, and flight options. If you click on any link, we could receive payment, goods in trade, or compensation. This is at no additional cost to you. We only promote travel partners and products that we have personally used and know you will love, too. All opinions are our own. 

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  4. Your pictures are stunning! How cool that this is your weekend trip! I live in Florida and find myself traveling all over the state on the weekends; I can only imagine where I would end up if I lived in Europe. Although I enjoyed this article, I especially loved the English language tip. That was a great heads up!
  5. Hi Stacey, Breath-taking images! I love the old world feel. Also neat how Mel Gibson filmed scenes here for Passion, too. I love your writing style - just read your About Page - and that you are a hoops fam. Huge hoops fan here. I played through junior college and then followed the game, from high school to the pro level. The local high school I follow - St. Pat's in New Jersey - has put 4 players in the NBA. Including superstar Kyrie Irving and also, rising star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This year's team has another kid going to Kentucky next year. Lots of talent at this little high school! Thanks for sharing :) Ryan Ryan Biddulph recently posted...5 Digital Nomad Blogging (and Life) Mistakes and CorrectionsMy Profile
  6. The place looks incredibly beautiful! First ever human settlements of Italy? Now, that's definitely a place I'd love to go! There's a hotel where we can stay that looks like the caves?? Wow, that's icing on the cake!
  7. Oh! I simply loved it. Those cobblestone roads, cave dwelling houses, and churches. Everything is worth praising and seeing. I would love to explore this place myself someday. Thanks for bringing this up.
  8. It was love at first sight when I saw the first picture of your post! And all the others are great too. It sounds like a super interesting place to visit, can't wait to visit it one day :)
  9. What a beautiful place. We’ve never heard of Matera but know it’s on our bucket-list when we return to Italy. We really love old towns that look the same as a hundred years ago. Maybe 2019 will be a good year to visit :-)
  10. Oh! I missed visiting this :( Looks like a wonderful off beat destination of Italy. I did the usual customary cities. Such a lot to discover. I wish I had known earlier.
  11. Why didn't I know about this town!? I've spent a fair bit of time exploring Italy of the years, but I've never managed to make it here. Well, I suppose I've got to now. The photos are fantastic, and do a good job of highlighting the town!
  12. Matera sounds one of the most interesting, unusual and memorable tourist destinations in Italy. The most amazing thing what I found is haunting and beautiful, the sassi sprawl below the rim of a yawning ravine like a giant nativity scene. Will visit Matera soon.
  13. Oh my! What a fabulous place to visit. And you had to walk all those cobblestones with a baby strapped to you. What dedication. ;) I love visiting UNESCO sites though I've never been to any quite as hard to reach as this. Thanks for the lesson on Matera.
  14. Oh my gosh, I am so sold on Matera. Cave dwellers from the earliest human settlement in Italy, plus it's absolutely beautiful. Totally my kind of place. And that first photo you have is gorgeous.
  15. I've never heard of Matera but it looks like eaxctly the kind of place my boyfriend and I would love to visit - we love old historic towns and to stay in the cave hotel would be incredible. Have pinned this for when I'm planning my next holiday!
  16. Agreed! Highly recommend getting to Matera soon. It's remarkable to think of the history and to see the new city where people were forcibly relocated juxtaposed to the historic city center. We visited on a foggy morning and the effect is one that has stuck with me since our visit. The human spirit to go back and live in a mystical, magical spot in the center of Southern Italy is humbling.
  17. This place l never heard of sounds wonderful :-). Next time we visit his family in Rome, I am definitely going to see if we can squeeze a visit to Matera. It would be nice to sleep in a cave dwelling. Thanks for sharing.
  18. I've obviously missed something when I haven't been there. I've seen so many other cities in Italy but the country is just full of awesome places to visit!
  19. Wow such a beautiful place it is. Would Love to visit this someday. Thanks for sharing the wonderful pictures
  20. What an awesome place to visit! So beautiful! My grandmother was originally from Sicily, Italy, so Italy is definitely on the travel bucket list.
  21. Matera looks amazing. Just yesterday I was looking for the best way to get there from Bari, as we're planning our yearly trip to Italy. Timely post!
  22. Visited this place last year and it looked as you described - unbelievable ! History and architecture was amazing ! Great writing too
  23. I have not heard of Matera,it sounds amazing! Thank you for sharing everything I would need to have a fabulous visit. I'm pinning this for future use