Few people know that Matera is the third oldest city in the world. Houses carved in stone, narrow streets that climb up the hill, a Paleolithic scenario: that’s why Matera has been chosen as a film set for many movies, including the famous "Passion of Christ".
By the '50s, over half of Matera’s population lived in the sassi, a typical cave sheltering an average of six people; in the late 1950s, about 15,000 inhabitants were forcibly relocated to new government housing schemes. In 1993, the sassi were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site; ironically, the town’s history of outrageous misery has transformed it into Basilicata’s leading tourist attraction.
Haunting and beautiful, the sassi sprawl below the rim of a yawning ravine like a giant nativity scene. The old town is simply unique and warrants at least a day of exploration and aimless wandering. Although many buildings are crumbling and abandoned, others have been restored and transformed into cozy abodes, restaurants and swish cave-hotels. On the cliff top, the new town is a lively place, with its elegant churches, palazzi and especially the pedestrianised Piazza Vittorio Veneto.