Journaling The Journey

Why Sassi Matera, Italy is 1 of the most Fascinating Towns in the World!

Sassi Matera Italy

Matera is located in the southern part of Italy.  And although it is very Italian, it is definitely not your quintessential Italian town!  It doesn’t have the typical perfect piazzas and cathedrals.  Nor does it have the top designer stores.

However, the second you see Sassi the ancient part of the city you will know you have seen something out of this world.  This place is considered to be the oldest city in Italy and Europe.  Moreover, it is considered to be  the third oldest city in the world (after Aleppo and Jericho).

Read on to find out why this is one of our favorite cities in the world.

Getting Here

We arrived quite late – due to the robbery in Taranto.  Obviously, at this point we were quite exhausted and demoralized.  The robbers even took our toothbrushes, so we scrambled before the stores closed to try to find the basics. 

Our amazing host Roberta at our Airbnb was seriously amazing.  Not only did she wait to greet us at 10 pm at night, but she also made some very sound recommendations for stores that ultimately replaced our computers, bags, telephone plugs, underwear and the like.

Sassi - the Ancient City

Sassi is magical – that is the best way to describe this city.  From our Airbnb we walked a block and were mesmerized by the view before us.  The ancient neighborhoods known as Sassi  are a series of grottoes carved out of limestone, teetering on the edge of a ravine.

The best walks here are the aimless ones – up alleys, down lanes – threading among the homes and Sassi’s 155 cave churches, which were mostly built in the 11th and 12th centuries and now deconsecrated.

At times it seems there are almost as many lookouts as churches in this town. Come to any edge and there’s inevitably a “belvedere” peering out over the deep ravine and the Sassi. View it like this, as a puzzle of stone houses on stone slopes, and it’s easy to see why filmmakers have adopted this town as the body double of choice for Biblical-era cities.

It’s one of the most unique and spectacular places we’ve visited in Italy or anywhere in the world.

Sassi Italy

However Sassi was not always so magical.  Up to the 1950’s it was known as Italy’s great shame and disgrace:  Families trying to survive in utter poverty crammed together in the dank caves of the Sassi together with their animals. 

Many died from disease and starvation.   The extent of the squalid conditions in the Sassi only came to international attention when writer Carlo Levi was exiled by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime to a town close to the area in 1935.

In his book, Christ Stopped at Eboli, published in 1945, Levi described the horror he witnessed – the paltry furniture, children either naked or in rags, bodies ravaged by disease – and concluded: “I have never seen in all my life such a picture of poverty.” 

The government poured much money into this town in the 1950s – moving it’s inhabitants into new homes in the greater Matera area.  Since then the caves have been resurrected into prized accommodations, restaurants and museums.

Wrap Up

Sassi Italy
Sassi Matera

Sassi is a mystical and magical place that one visits many times  This UNESCO World heritage site is one of the most unique places in the world.  And it is considered the oldest city in Europe and the 3rd oldest city in the world!

Sassi is so difficult to compare to anything else on this planet!  Have you been here?  What did you think?  If you have not visited this is a must on any bucket list.

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