Planning to visit Matera Italy? Wondering what to see in Matera and what to do in Matera Italy? Perfect! I visited Matera on my Puglia road trip, and I fell in love with Matera at the first sight. Most likely you will too! Matera is one of the most spectacular cities in the world. Check out my guide to the best things to do in Matera Italy!
- THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN MATERA ITALY
- WHAT IS MATERA
- WHERE IS MATERA
- WHAT IS MATERA FAMOUS FOR
- IS MATERA WORTH OF VISITING
- HOW TO GET TO MATERA
- MATERA ITALY AIRPORT
- HOW MANY DAYS TO SPEND IN MATERA ITALY
- BEST TIME TO VISIT MATERA
- WHERE TO STAY IN MATERA
- MATERA ITALY HISTORY
- MATERA ITALY MOVIES
- BEST THINGS TO DO IN MATERA ITALY
- 1. EXPLORE SASSO CAVEOSO
- 2. STAY IN A CAVE IN SASSO CAVEOSO
- 4. START SIGHTSEEING MATERA AT PIAZZA SAN PIETRO CAVEOSO SQUARE AND SAN PIETRO CAVEOSO CHURCH
- 5. HEAD TO CASA GROTTA DI VICO SOLITARIO
- 6. VISIT THE CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DI IDRIS
- 7. VISIT THE CHURCH SANTA LUCIA ALLE MALVE
- 8. TAKE A BREAK IN A CAVE CAFE IN MATERA
- 9. ADMIRE SASSI DI MATERA FROM THE BELVEDERE DI PIAZZA GIOVANNI PASCOLI VIEWPOINT
- 10. SEE THE CATHEDRAL OF MATERA
- 11. WANDER SASSO BARISSANO
- 12. VISIT SAN PIETRO BARISANO CHURCH
- 13. SEE PALOMBARO LUNGO
- 14. WALK ACROSS RAVINE
- 15. HEAD TO BELVEDERE DI MUGIA TIMONE
- 16. BUY A CUCKOO DI MATERA AS A SOUVENIR
- 17. ENJOY PEPERONI CRUSCHI
- 18. SAMPLE MATERA BREAD
- 19. TRY FAVE E CICORIA
- MAP OF MATERA ATTRACTIONS
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN MATERA ITALY
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Visiting Matera Italy
WHAT IS MATERA
Matera is a city in southern Italy.
The city of Matera in Italy is among the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, along with Jericho in Palestine and Allepo in Syria.
Incredible Matera is the oldest human settlement in Italy. The city dates back to prehistoric times. And, it has been continuously inhabited for the past 9 000 years. The archaeological records of the first human settlements in Matera go back to 7.000 BC.
The city of Matera is one of the most spectacular places in Italy. The Old City of Sassi di Matera is carved into stones. Caves and stone-carved houses make up the Old City of Matera.
Breathtaking Matera is a World Heritage City. 1993. UNESCO declared Matera a World Heritage Site calling Matera the “most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region.”
Today the Old City of Matera is a top tourist attraction in Italy that receives 400 000 visitors a year.
WHERE IS MATERA
The city of Matera is in the Basilicata region in southern Italy. Matera is close to the heel of the boot of Italy.
The city of Matera is the capital of the province of Matera, in the Basilicata region. Matera in the Basilicata region is close to the border of the Basilicata-Puglia region. Thus, people often believe that Matera is in Puglia instead of Basilicata.
Bari city in the neighboring Puglia region is the largest city close to Matera. Matera is only one hour drive from Bari.
Bari Karol Wojtyla International Airport is the closest airport to Matera. Visiting Matera from Bari is among the most popular day trips from Bari.
Matera is a 5-hour drive south of Rome and a 3-hour drive southeast of Naples.
WHAT IS MATERA FAMOUS FOR
Matera is famous for its spectacular caves complex and magnificent stone-carved landscapes.
The Old City of Matera, called Sassi di Matera (Sassi means stones in Italian), is built into the rocks over a river canyon. Sassi di Matera looks like a big arena with the Sasso Caveoso district on one side and the Sasso Barisano district on the other side of the arena.
Matera is a famous UNESCO World Heritage City in Italy. It is the oldest human settlement in Italy, with archaeological records tracing the Paleolithic.
The unique Matera was a filming location of many popular films, among which Passion of Jesus Christ by Mel Gibson and James Bond’s No Time to Die movies are probably the most famous.
IS MATERA WORTH OF VISITING
The UNESCO City of Matera is one of the most spectacular cities in the world.
The stunning rock-cut Sassi di Matera with its cave homes, cave churches, monasteries, and hermitages, is a must-see in a lifetime.
The architecture and landscapes of Matera are matchless.
Visiting Matera and sleeping in the cave of Sasso Caveoso in Matera are must-have experiences in a lifetime.
HOW TO GET TO MATERA
Matera is 40 mi (65 km) from the city of Bari in Italy.
Matera is a one-hour drive from Bari. Matera is a one-hour bus ride from Matera.
Bari Karol Wojtyla International Airport is the closest airport to Matera. Visiting Matera from Bari is among the most popular day trips from Bari.
Matera is 156 mi (250 km), or a 3-hour drive, southeast of Naples. Daily buses run from Naples to Matera. A bus ride from Naples to Matera takes 3 hours on average.
Matera is 260 mi (420 km), or 5 hours, southeast of Rome.
MATERA ITALY AIRPORT
Bari Karol Wojtyla International Airport (BRI) is the nearest airport to Matera. Matera is 34 mi (54 km) from Bari Karol Wojtyla International Airport.
Brindisi International Airport (BDS) is 70 mi (112 km) from Matera, and Naples International Airport (NAP) is 123 mi (197 km) away from Matera.
Matera is 274 mi (440 km) from Rome Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (FCO).
HOW MANY DAYS TO SPEND IN MATERA ITALY
It is possible to visit Matera on a day trip. But visiting Matera on a day trip means getting only glimpses of Matera.
However, staying in a cave hotel in Matera is a must-have experience in a lifetime. Therefore, I recommend staying in Matera for one day and two nights. And two days in Matera would be perfect to see all the sites in Matera with no rush.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MATERA
The best time to visit Matera is from April to November for good weather and sunny days in southern Italy.
The peak of the tourist season is July and August. Daily temperatures in Matera rise to 86 F (33 C) in July and August.
July and August in Matera mean high temperatures, inflated prices, and tourist crowds.
June, September, and October come with pleasant temperatures around 77 F -80 F (25-27C), perfect for sightseeing and lesser crowds.
WHERE TO STAY IN MATERA
I slept in a cave of La Corte Dei Pastori Luxury in Matera in the famous Sasso Caveoso district. It is arguably the best district for staying in Matera since the caves district is the oldest part of Matera.
The caves of La Corte Dei Pastori Luxury have a gorgeous terrace and a breathtaking view of Matera.
It has a perfect location in the center of the Sasso Caveoso district.
La Corte Dei Pastori Luxury is near San Pietro Caveoso church, Santa Maria di Idris church, and Casa Grotta Nei Sassi. A bus stop at Piazza San Pietro Caveoso is within 2 min walk.
MATERA ITALY HISTORY
To briefly outline the history of Matera, let me say that Matera is one of the oldest settlements in Italy and the world overall.
But, in the mid-1900s, Matera was called the Shame of Italy as people lived in unseen poverty in Matera. However, time changed, and the destiny of Matera changed. 1993. UNESCO declared Matera a World Heritage City, and in 2019 EU named it the European Capital of Culture.
Matera is among the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, along with Jericho in Palestine and Allepo in Syria. The city of Matera is the oldest human settlement in Italy. Matera dates back to prehistoric times. And it has been continuously inhabited for the past 9 000 years.
People lived in the caves of Matera in horrifying living conditions until 1945. when Christ stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi was published.
The novel has put the poverty of Matera into a hot spot. The novelist called this remote part of the south of Italy too poor for even Christ to visit. He called Matera a ‘schoolboy’s idea of Dante’s Inferno‘.
At that time, people in the Matera area lived in shockingly poor living conditions, with no running water and no electricity, sharing the only room they lived in with animals (chickens, pigs, cows, donkeys, etc.), and along with that came malaria.
Matera was called the Shame of Italy in the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1952 the Italian Government relocated 15.000 people, out of 30.000 Matera inhabitants, from the caves to a newly-built part of the city.
In the 1980s, the Italian Government rented the caves of Matera to people who started converting the caves into small hotels, restaurants, cafes, art shops, etc.
1993. UNESCO declared Matera a World Heritage Site naming Matera the “most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region”.
2019. Matera became the European Capital of Culture.
MATERA ITALY MOVIES
Matera is also famous as a filming location of many movies, especially Biblical-themed movies since the rock-carved Matera looks like Palestine.
The Biblical-themed movie like The Passion of the Christ (2004), The Nativity Story (2005), Ben Hur (2016), Mary Magdalene (2018), The Young Messiah (2016), King David (1985), Mary (2005), The Gospel According to Mathew (1964) were filmed in Matera.
Apart from the Biblical-themed movies, James Bond’s No Time to Die (2021) was filmed in the spectacular Matera Italy.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN MATERA ITALY
The ancient Matera developed over the canyon of river Gravina that separates the Old City of Matera (Sassi di Matera) into two parts: Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano.
The plain Civita district stands on a rocky outcrop between the steep Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano districts.
Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano are the two most important and must-see districts of Sassi di Matera, along with the Civita district.
1. EXPLORE SASSO CAVEOSO
Sasso Caveoso is the oldest and prettiest district of Matera.
Sasso Caveoso is the district with case grotte (houses caves) of Matera. In other words, the famous caves of Matera are in the Sasso Caveoso district.
Today majority of the caves in Sasso Caveoso di Matera are stunning boutique hotels, lovely cafes, charming restaurants, and art and crafts shops. If you wish to stay in a cave in Matera, look for your stay among the cave stays in the Sasso Caveoso district.
Sasso Caveoso district has some of the tourist attractions in Matera. The church of Santa Maria de İdris, Santa Lucia Alle Malve church, Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, San Pietro Caveoso church, and Piazza San Pietro Caveoso square in Sasso Caveoso are some of the most famous tourist attractions in Matera.
2. STAY IN A CAVE IN SASSO CAVEOSO
If you wish to experience Matera at its best, staying in a cave in Matera is a must.
Staying in a cave in Matera is unarguably one of the best things to do in Matera.
I slept in a Camera Grotta of La Corte Dei Pastori Luxury in Matera, a beautiful boutique hotel in Sasso Ceveoso. La Corte Dei Pastori is near San Pietro Caveoso church, Santa Maria di Idris church, and Casa Grotta Nei Sassi.
It has a perfect location for sightseeing in Matera.
4. START SIGHTSEEING MATERA AT PIAZZA SAN PIETRO CAVEOSO SQUARE AND SAN PIETRO CAVEOSO CHURCH
The La Corte Dei Pastori Luxury in Matera overlooks the San Pietro Caveoso church and the San Pietro Caveoso square.
The church and the square are good for starting sightseeing in Matera.
The beautiful Saint Pietro Caveoso, also known as the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, stands at the ravine edge. The church is a historical attraction and a religious landmark in Matera. It is the only church in Sasso Caveoso that is not a rock church.
The church was built in the 13th century but had many renovations over the centuries. However, the most notable restoration happened in the 18th century. The most beautiful part of the church is its beautiful Baroque facade. The church has three portals with three statues (a statue of the Madonna of Mercy, a statue of St Peter, and a statue of St Paul) above them. The central cave ceiling has beautiful 15th and 16th-century frescoes.
The square has some of the best views of Sassi di Matera. It has views of Sasso Caveoso with the caves and the rock church of Santa Maria di Idris, the Ravina River, and the Cathedral of Matera in the distance.
5. HEAD TO CASA GROTTA DI VICO SOLITARIO
The Historic Cave House of Vico Solitario is an ancient traditional cave house of Matera furnished with authentic furniture, utensils, and tools.
The Casa Grotta shows ancient life in a cave house made of only one room in which people and animals lived together.
There is an audio guide about the history of living in a cave house and a detailed description of the furnishings, tools, and customs.
There is a neviera, a cave for collecting snow used for cooling food and drink in the hot season, next to the cave house. And a video in the next room shows the way of cave life and the history of Matera.
A visit to Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario is one of the best things to do in Matera and a must-do if you want to understand the historical background of Matera. Plan to spend one hour on a visit to Casa Grotta.
Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario is near the church of San Pietro Caveoso in Sasso Caveoso.
6. VISIT THE CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DI IDRIS
The Church of Saint Mary of Idris is the most famous rock church and a landmark of Matera.
It stands on a rocky peak in the Sasso Caveoso district with a fabulous view o the city and the Gravina.
The Santa Maria di Idris church is a unique 15th-century rock church. The church adjoins the 12-the century church of San Giovanni in Monterrone. So, the two churches make a unique Rupestrian church complex.
Both churches have valuable frescoes and are a must-visit in Matera,
7. VISIT THE CHURCH SANTA LUCIA ALLE MALVE
The rock church of St Lucia Alle Malve is one of the most famous rock churches in Matera.
The church was a part of the first female monastery of the Benedictine Catholic Order in Matera.
It was in use from the 8th century until the 13th century. Stunningly beautiful frescoes still adorn the church.
On the Feast Day of St Lucia (December 13), there is a Holy Mass in the Santa Lucia Alle Malve church.
The Santa Lucia Alle Malve is in the Sasso Caveoso district.
8. TAKE A BREAK IN A CAVE CAFE IN MATERA
Traveling is not only about sightseeing, going from one to the next tourist attraction, and learning about history, cultures, and customs.
Absorbing the authentic vibe and just relaxing in the local atmosphere of the place are parts of the overall traveling experience too.
Relaxing in a cave cafe in Sasso Caveoso is among the best things to do in Matera.
Zipa cafe in Via Madonna dell’Idris street near the church of Santa Maria di Idris is a fabulous cave bar in Matera.
The cocktail bar has a small terrace with seating cushions, pillows, and bean bags among the rocks and breathtaking views of Matera.
The bar offers cocktails, wines, smoothies, coffee, …, and some tasty nibbles!
Order an Original Sin cocktail or The Madonna and the Missionary cocktail and relax in the unique ambiance of Zipa bar in Sasso Caveosso.
9. ADMIRE SASSI DI MATERA FROM THE BELVEDERE DI PIAZZA GIOVANNI PASCOLI VIEWPOINT
Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli is one of the best panoramic viewpoints of Matera.
It is a little square with spectacular views of Sassi di Matera. It is hard to say whether the sunset views or night views Matter from the viewpoint are better,
But, the views of Matera during the night with yellow lights on are magical.
10. SEE THE CATHEDRAL OF MATERA
There are 170 churches in Matera, out of which 150 are rock-cut churches.
But the Cathedral of Matera (Duomo) is the largest and most significant church, among all churches, in Matera.
The Apulian Romanesque-style Cathedral is dedicated to Madonna della Bruna and Sant’Eustachio, the patron saints of Matera.
The Cathedral was built in the 13th century, but the interior is in the Renaissance and Baroque styles. While it might not look so unique from the outside, you might get surprised by its interior!
Visiting the Cathedral of Matera is among the best things to do in Matera.
The Cathedral of Matera stands on the highest point of Sassi di Matera of the Civita district and overlooks the Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barissano.
11. WANDER SASSO BARISSANO
Sasso Barissano is the Matter district with traditional stone houses and palaces.
Sasso Barisanno is on the opposite side of Sasso Caveoso in Matera.
The rock church of St. Pietro Barissano and the Convent of Santo Agostino are in Sasso Barissano.
Beautiful stone houses, gorgeous stone palaces, lovely gardens, ancient stone alleys, the Convento Santo Agostino, and the St. Piero Barissano church make the Sasso Barissano district worth visiting.
12. VISIT SAN PIETRO BARISANO CHURCH
Matera has more than 15O cave churches.
The 12th-century San Pietro Barisano is the largest cave church in Matera. It has unusual underground catacombs with rock-carved seats for the dead.
Several marvelous frescoes from the 15th century adorn the church.
13. SEE PALOMBARO LUNGO
Palombaro Lungo is the central underground water cistern of the ancient city of Matera.
It was built in 1832 as the central rainwater storage in the city that collected rainwater and spring waters. The Palombaro Lungo complex is an underground complex of cisterns, pools, canals, pillars, and arches.
Seeing the ancient underground cistern complex is among the best things to do in Matera, Italy!
The Palombaro Lungo is under Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the main square in Matera. The entrance ticket is 3 €.
14. WALK ACROSS RAVINE
Walks across the suspending Tibetan bridge on Ravine River, take the trails of Parco della Murgia and enjoy the views of Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barissano from cliffs in the park.
The path that leads to the Tibetan bridge starts at Porta Pistola square.
Crossing the suspending Tibetan Bridge over Ravina is one of the most exciting things to do in Matera Italy! And, hiking the trails of Parco della Murgia is among the best things to do in Matera for nature lovers who enjoy chasing great views on their travelers.
Plan to spend about 2 hours exploring the trails of the park.
15. HEAD TO BELVEDERE DI MUGIA TIMONE
Go to the Belvedere di Mugia Timone viewpoint and appreciate the views and landscapes of Sassi di Matera.
This famous viewpoint was the crucifixion site in The Passion of Christ movie by Mel Gibson. The viewpoint has nothing less but spectacular views of the Old City of Matera.
If you are not into walking, you can take a bus from the center of Matera to Belvedere di Mugia Timone viewpoint. A bus ride from the Matera center to the Belvedere di Mugia Timone lasts about 15 min.
16. BUY A CUCKOO DI MATERA AS A SOUVENIR
Cuckoo, also spelled cuccu, is a tiny traditional whistle from Matera and a symbol of Matera.
It is a cockerel-shaped whistle made from terracotta (the traditional clay). The whistle got its name after the onomatopoeic sound of a cuckoo bird.
Cuckoo di Matera belongs to the cultural heritage of Matera. Cuccu di Matera is a good luck talisman, a symbol of love, fertility, vitality, and a superstition talisman against evil.
The tiny whistle traces back the prehistoric times in Matera. The cuccu whistles were found in the prehistoric graves of kids in Matera. They were toys of kids in Matera in prehistoric times.
Besides that, kids in Matera have been getting terracotta cuccu on Easter Monday and the Feast Day of the Madonna di Piacciano for centuries.
The bright and colorfully painted whistle has a long tradition in Matera. It has been gifted in Matera for centuries as s declaration of love among lovers, as a wedding gift wishing prosperity to married couples, and as a gift for the birth of a boy to wish him fertility in the future.
Cuccu di Matera is also a protection talisman against evil. People of Matera keep the whistles for protection in their houses near the fireplace. They traditionally keep them close to not yet-baptized newborns for protection.
Today cuccu is the most famous souvenir from Matera. There are two types of cuckoo whistles: colorful cuccu whistles and plain (without colors) cuccu whittles. Cucu whistles are for sale at craft stalls and souvenir shops in Matera.
17. ENJOY PEPERONI CRUSCHI
There’s no trip to Italy without indulging in delicious traditional Italian food. So, when in Matera, traditional food in Matera is a must-try!
Peperoni cruschi are sun-dried red peppers, a staple of the Basilicata region. Opposite to what you might think, pepperoni cruschi are mild in taste and somewhat smokey.
They are traditional ingredients of soups, and pasta dishes, among which pasta con i peperoni cruschi are most popular. So, if you wish to eat a local dish from Matera, go for pasta con i peperoni cruschi!
But if you want a traditional quick snack of Basilicata, try taralli ai peperoni cruschi!
Foodies agree, nibbling taralli ai peperoni cruschi is definitely among the best things to do in Matera Italy!
18. SAMPLE MATERA BREAD
The cuisine of the Basilicata region is peasant cuisine. And bread is a staple food of Basilicata.
Matera bread, or Pane di Matera in Italian, is a symbol of Matera cuisine.
It is a conical-shaped bread made with natural yeast (from fermented local figs and grapes), flour from durum wheat, water, and salt. The bread has a distinctive aroma thanks to the fermentation.
The conical shape of bread from Matera resembles the shape of the Murgia mountains.
Pane di Matera goes well with meats, vegetables, and cheeses. But if you want to try an authentic dish with Matera bread, order acquasale (a bread soup) and pasta mollicata (a pasta dish with a stale-bread sauce).
19. TRY FAVE E CICORIA
Fave e Cicoria is a traditional dish of Puglia and Basilicata in southern Italy.
Fave e Cicoria is a fave bean puree with chicory green.
Fave a Cicoria is a simple and delicious dish made with wild chicory and organic fava beans, all garnished with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.