We happened across this small museum quite by accident when visiting Matera whilst on holiday in Southern Italy. We had with us our 2 youngest children, at that time at a difficult age, too young to be left in England alone, but not really wanting to be going to Mum and Dadish type places. This museum was a revelation and opened all our eyes to just what people did in the past and are still doing now, to each other. All exhibits have descriptions of how they were used, what countries used them and whether they are still used - all parts of the world are featured. Don't be put off, give it a go and you will learn something. It isn't suitable for younger children though.
Although you can't really see it when you're on top of the Cathedral hill, it would have been to your left - opposite the Sasso Barisano - if you were looking from the observation spot by the Cathedral itself.
The other of the great ravines is filled by Sasso Caveoso. Conceptually just like Sasso Barisano - a maze of narrow streets and houses - Sasso Caveoso has not been restored to anywhere near the same degree. In fact, we frequently saw building and reconstruction works going on in our wanders throughout this Sasso.
There are a number of interesting churches in the area, some dating back to as far as the 12th century, as well as the usual complement of hotels, museums, and eateries (even if in slightly smaller numbers than in Sasso Barisano).
Sasso Caveoso is also the starting point for the Gravina di Matera hikes, taking in a number of cave churches surrounding the area.
In one of the 2 valleys - and right below you, if you're looking down from the Cathedral square - along Via Fiorentini.
The larger - and the better restored - of two sassi, with many cave houses now converted into museums, shops and restaurants. Our own hotel - the Sextantio - is part of the Sasso Barisano. There are also several Rupestrian churches.
While the sasso is, at first glance, simply a maze and is impossible to navigate, it's surprisingly easy and well marked, with tourist walking trails highlighted as you wander around. That said, just wandering around is not a bad idea in itself!
The Church of San Domenico is a religious place, extremely changed by time and works of renovation, which could not conceal its Romanic features on the façade.
The church combines Romanesque and baroque elements and contains works of art of the 16 century.
I must admitt this is the church I liked more as it is very simple but at the same time it is now in the most modern part of the city.
My favourite thing about Matera is that city definitly offers to you much more than you expect.It's in the deep south of Italy usually known as the less safe area of the country and you find an incredibly safe and quiet town, it's incredibly clean for the southern Italy standards and still there are not so many tourists around.Then you see there is a torture museum which is not advertised in the travel books it doesn't even have a web site, you go and you find out this is the museum that in Europe collects the bigger number of torture tools.The museum is not so big, just 3 rooms but the tools are well mainained and the visit, after you read what those tools were used to and where they are still used, does not leave you indifferent.
This is the main square of the city, in the area only resident can use cars so it's easy to walk around and cross streets without any problem and you can enjoy an icecream sitting outside without breathing the car gas.From this square you also have a great look on sasso barisano and you can see some part of the undergorund town with several cisterns up to 15 meters big used to keep the rain water, practically another city under the city.
This is the smaller "sasso", the origin of its name is not sure but it probably derives from the fact that this area is oriented to the city of Bari.
It lays on north west of civita but you can have a look on it from Piazza Vittorio Veneto even if you will get the best panorama on Sasso Barisano from the Duomo square which, for me, should be the sart of your visit of Sassi, infact going down to Sasso Barisano. from duomo square you will be able to start an easy itinerary that will bring you, at the end, into the earth of the bigger and more popular Sasso caveoso.
During this walk you will meet on your way the church of San Pietro Barisano, the Church of San Agostino and the Santa Maria delle malve with its beautiful frescos.
Gravina is a deep ravine, a canyon some kilometrs long passed through by a river.Matera developed all along the cliffs of the Gravina creating the wide urban area of sassi and civita.
During the medioevo many rock churches have been built all along the Gravina some still preserve their frescos, some look just like caves.
Murgia is a mesa that goes from puglia region until Matera and the caves in this area witness the human presence since prehistorical age.
Following the itinerary I mentioned in the sasso caveoso and sasso barisano tip you will be able to walk just along one side of the canyon that gives you some really breathtaking views of nature, grottos and rock churches.
The casa grotta which literelally means home cave is one of the best way to have an idea of how people lived in this town untill 1950 when the sassi got abandoned for healthy reasons.
The casa Grotta I am talking about is the one of Casalnuovo(there are 2 and this is the one less visited by tourists as more difficult to reach).
In the casa grotta you will find the rooms a typical home were made of:the kitchen the bedroom, the stable, the cellar and in each area you will be shown the original toys used for the daily activities.Particulary interesting is the water cistern where people used to store the rain water as that area was not served by any aqueduct.That made me think of how clever we are in wasting that natural resource.
The ticket to visit the casa costs 1,50€ and inside there is an audio system which shows you the house in italian, french, english, german and japanise.
This is probably the tougher walk inside Sasso Caveoso but it's definitly worth both for the church and for the view you get once you arrive.
The church was completely carved into the calcareous rocks and you can see frescoes on the walls. The name Idris derives from the Greek Odigitria, patron of water or guide of the way. The interior still contains paintings dating from the 17th century.
This church is part of the rock churches tour, you can buy singgle tiket to visit one church(2,50€) a tiket to visit 3 of them(5€) and one to visit all the 5 churches which is 10 euros.
I'd reccomend to visit this one, Santa Lucia delle Malve and Convicinio San Antonio.
It is the more popular Sasso, it lays on the southern part of the town and you get a great view of this area from Pascoli square.
Following the itinerary I suggested from sasso Barisano and walking along the main road you will end up in Piazza San Pietro Caveoso with its church and from there you just have to climb the many steps up and down the area to discover all the corners which it has to offer.In this area you will also find the "chiese rupestri" that are some churches built inside some caves where you can still find some well maintained frescos.
The Cathedral of Matera is located in the civita between the two Sassi, where anciently Sant'Eustachio Church rose.
Its erection, wanted by the Archbishop Andrea, began in 1230 and was finished forty years later, in 1270.The Cathedral has a ‘romanico’ style and an external plant of three aisles: the central one is higher and has five windows.
The front door is overheaded by the statue of the Madonna della Bruna, whereas on the side-façades there are St. Pietro and Paolo, St. Eustachio and St. Teopista.
Its Latin cross is divided into three aisles delimited by ten columns with figurative medieval capitals.The church, renewed in the XVIII century, does not display much of its original decorations.
The church was built on a small hypogean ancient church of St. Pietro and Paolo.It contains a fresco representing a visit at Matera of the Pope Urbano in 1903.
Some chroniclers say that the church received as a guest St. Francesco D’Assisi in person in 1218.
The original structure of the church was enlarged in the XV century, before achieving its greatest beauty in the XVIII century, when the beautiful face was built by the architects Valentino and Pennetta.
The inside, having only a nave surrounded by chapels, guards a wonderful polyptych of nine distemper paintings on wood, probably made by Bartolomeo Vivarini or by Lazzaro Bastiani, artists of the XVI century.
The image of Matera is linked to the Sassi, which are rocky installations developed from the Middle Age along the steed tuff walls of the Gravina stream.
Benedictine and Greek monks lived in the caves, previously used by the prehistoric man,successively an inhabited area of peasants developed there too.
This settlement occupies two natural amphitheatres, the Sasso Caveoso and the Sasso Barisano, separated by a kind of hill on which the Cathedral rises.
Before excessive rudeness conditions forced the inhabitants to evacuate in 1952, the Sassi represented a complex example of integration between the man and the nature through technical and urban innovating solutions. It is possible to admire them in their original splendour once again, after their urban recovery.
The Palazzo stands at the bottom of the Via Ridola. It is 18C Baroque. It houses local art work and the work of Carlo Levi, most importantly the enormous panel called "Lucania". It is jealously guarded and photography is not allowed. This picture is a detail from it. (I do not remember where I got it--sneaked it? from a poster?). Levi's work is as sensitive as his writing and as propagandistic for the poor. His stroke is bold.He is not van Gogh (but who is?) I hope you can go in for 15 minutes. On the left (not the main entrance) there was a finely carved door. (We wrote some notes about Levi under Basilicata General Tips)