Your guide will meet you at your hotel or an agreed central point in Matera and give you a brief history of the city's origins before starting your tour. As you walk, your guide will explain how, in the 1950s, Matera became 'the shame of Italy'. At this time, the city's residents shared their cave dwellings with their livestock, and conditions were squalid without running water, a sewerage system or electricity. Eventually, a forced relocation was instigated.
The emotive story of the local people and their resilience culminated in Matera becoming a source of renewed pride as it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. To crown this, it was elected the 2019 European Capital of Culture.
The city is divided into four areas, one of which is still off limits to visitors but has been used in various Hollywood movies, including The Passion of the Christ. Within each area is a labyrinthine network of roughly hewn streets and caves, the majority of which were houses, though around 186 cave churches are also scattered across the old city.
Your first stop is at one of these ancient rock churches. Although inside the church is quite unassuming, it holds a well-preserved fresco of Saint Lucio, which dates back to the 16th century.
Afterward, you wander through the cave-lined streets, where your guide will stop at various panoramic viewpoints. The next stop is above the sassi in Il Piano, the area Matera's wealthy moved into during the Renaissance. Here, you'll see Matera's 13th-century Romanesque cathedral. The interior is Baroque in style and has some of its original medieval frescoes intact.
From here, the tour continues to the main square. It conceals an underground cistern, Palombaro Lungo, which you’ll explore with your guide. Its vast scale and subterranean intrigue give it an otherworldly character.
Your last stop before lunch is the Church of Saint John, a medieval chapel dating back to the 13th century and once used by Greek Orthodox nobles. Your final visit of the day is at a local food shop, where you can enjoy a lunch of local cheeses, cold meats, vegetables and wine before returning to your hotel.
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