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SassiFrom 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 from stone ageThe 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 years ago."


Sassi Living AreaWe 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. Family of Guide inside their SassiIn 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.



Cave Church from 12th centuryIn 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. Fresco in cave churchWe 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.Filming The Passion of the Christ 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 Ostuni.


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