Alberobello, we drove about an hour to the town of Matera which
is famous for its Sassi. Sassi are houses built into stones. They
are suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy.
caves around Matera were occupied during the stone age, 8000 years
before Christ. During the 12th century, people began moving across
the canyon and built their houses into the hillsides where they
would be closer to the fields where they worked. Initially, they
had no electricity, no plumbing, no running water. Rain water was
collected in cisterns inside the Sassi. Sewage was collected in
chamber pots and emptied into the streets. But in the 1950's the
Italian government, recognizing the very unsanitary living conditions,
forcefully began relocating the population of the Sassi and assigned
them to houses they had built on the outskirts of Matera. However,
people continued to live in the Sassi. Until 1968, there were over
30,000 people living in these stone dwellings. UNESCO declared the
Sassi a World Heritage Site as the oldest continuously occupied
area in the world, a city that never died. According to Fodor's
"Matera is the only place in the world where people can boast
to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000
walked down the cobblestone streets into the oldest section of Sassi.
We visited one that has been set up as an example of a typical living
quarters, pre restoration. In
fact, this is a picture of the family of our guide as her grandparents
used to live in a Sassi. Typically, a bed was brought by the wife
as her dowry. Children slept with their parents or in dresser drawers
or on the floor. Animals were precious resources and also stayed
inside the Sassi.
addition to the houses, there are over 150 rock churches. Different
monks lived in the churches until the 17th century, many of them
from the area around Cappadocia, Turkey. We
walked through several of the old rock churches with frescoes still
visible on the walls. The churches also contained wine cellars for
storing the wine made by the monks.
Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since
these houses were, and in most areas still are, mostly unlivable.
Current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented,
and has promoted the re-generation of the Sassi with the aid of
the European Union, the government, UNESCO, and Hollywood.
In fact, Mel Gibsons's film "The Passion of the Christ"
was filmed in the Sassi area. Restoration of some of the buildings
began in 1986 and now over 1000 people occupy the restored Sassi.
Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels.
To view more photos from Matera, please go to Matera
Photo Gallery. To read about the next location visited, go to
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