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Sassi di Matera

Matera: a city unlike any other in the world, carved out of white tuff and the blinding Mediterranean sun…

The Matera of the “Sassi” is a city carved out of the rock, formed by one of the most suggestive city environments in the world, classified by Unesco World Heritage site to be passed on to future generations.

The Sassi Barisano and Caveoso, set on the deep slopes of a valley, with cavernous meanders and underground labyrinths, hide relics of a remote past rich in culture and history. Caves and underground architectures are connected by steps carved out of the cliffs and are enclosed by dry-stone walls bounding small vegetable gardens, authentic stone gardens to be tilled, where the fecund strength of the vegetable world reveals its utmost potency. Wandering along the streets of this underground city you run into ancient places of worship, used to celebratc in the depths of the earth the nuptials of sun and stone. To this archaic city fabric, medieval monasticism brought new sap: countless hermitages, churches and hypogean basilicas rise on the sides of the ravine and in secondary valleys. Some crypts are decorated with frescoes that are often well conserved, many in Byzantine style.

The superb cathedral, built with the white stone of the nearby Vaglia quarreys, and looming, with its radiance, over the entire city, eloquently expresses the simplicity and beauty of the Romanesque style. The striking churches of Santa Lucia, San Francesco di Assisi, Materdomini, del Purgatorio were built during the Renaissance and, later, during the Baroque period.

In the area of Matera there is a great number of small churches, some of which are difficult to reach. They were dug right into the tuff or built into natural caves. They attest to the presence of monastic settlements, places of worship, communities of shepherds, etc., dating back to ancient times. Some of these rock churches are of noteworthy interest (S. Maria della Valle, also called La Vaglia, S. Maria delle Virtù, S. Maria de Armenis). In others remnants of frescos of the 12th – 16th centuries have been preserved (Crypt of the Original Sin, S. Lucia alle Malve, S. Nicola dei Greci, S. Giovanni in Monterrone, Madonna delle Tre Porte). They are all proof of the continuity of worship and culture in the area.

Food and Wine

The cuisine of Lucania gets its taste from its strong spicy ingredients. It is rich in pungent perfumes of wild herbs and tomatoes, silvery olives, and prickly pear cactus. Red peppers abound as do strong sheep and goat cheeses. The cooking methods are simple with much baking and grilling. Little meat is eaten but the the quality of the mutton, goat or pork is excellent. The pasta, made from the strong durum wheat, is often still home made and comes in many different shapes. Typical are the “lagane” small rough shaped lasagne or the rolled “miniuch” similar to spaghetti with a hole. The sauces use all the vegetables available, yellow with peppers, red with tomatoes, green with “grasses” chards or tops. The desserts are simple but delicious based on grain, nuts and a particular use of local cheeses. The Wines: Aglianico del Vulture, Grottino di Roccanova, Matera, Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri.

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