Matera Introduction Walking Tour, Matera

Matera Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Matera

Architectural historian Anne Parmly Toxey said the cave areas of Matera had been occupied for at least 3,000 years. There have been settlements in Matera since the Paleolithic era.

The town itself was founded in 251 BC by Roman consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus. He called it Matheola. Subsequently, the town was occupied by Longobards, Byzantines, Saracens, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, and Bourbons.

The old center of the city lies in two ravines of the Gravina river. This area, called the Sassi ("Stones") of Matera, is a vast complex of cave dwellings. This original settlement is referred to as the underground city ("la citta sotterranea").

Old Matera harbors a diverse assortment of ancient churches carved into the limestone walls. Apulian-Romanesque Matera Cathedral was built in 1270. It divides the two Stone sections of the city. San Pietro Caveoso and San Pietro Barisano were restored by the World Monuments Fund.

Under the Vittorio Veneto Square is the Long Diver ("Palombaro Lungo"), built in 1832. With its huge columns and vaults, it is a navigable "water cathedral." It collected water for the city until the Apulia Aqueduct was built in 1920.

The 16th-century Tramontano Castle has three large towers. It was meant to have twelve, but work was unfinished after peasants assassinated the corrupt Count of Matera. The 18th-century Annunziata Palace is a former Dominican convent housing the Provincial Library and a considerable coin collection.

Today, tourists flock to Matera. Cave dwellings are now well-appointed rooms with every convenience. Matera is hilly, made for people. It's best to explore on foot. Ridola Street (via Ridola) is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Come to the Pasture Square Belvedere at night. Look out over the lights of the Sassi. The city spreads out below. In three thousand years, it may still be here, but the time to see it is now.
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Matera Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Matera Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Matera (See other walking tours in Matera)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Piazza Vittorio Veneto (Vittorio Veneto Square)
  • Palombaro Lungo (Palombaro Lungo Cistern)
  • Palazzo dell'Annunziata (Annunziata Palace)
  • Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (Church of San Giovanni Battista)
  • Sassi in Miniatura (Sassi in Miniature)
  • Cattedrale di Matera (Matera Cathedral)
  • Casa Noha (Noha House)
  • Piazza San Pietro Caveoso (San Pietro Caveoso Square)
  • Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo (Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church)
  • Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario (Cave House of Lonely Alley)
  • Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi (Lanfranchi Palace Museum)
  • Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli (Pascoli Square Belvedere)
  • Via Ridola (Ridola Street)
  • Castello Tramontano (Tramontano Castle)
Piazza Vittorio Veneto (Vittorio Veneto Square)

1) Piazza Vittorio Veneto (Vittorio Veneto Square)

In 1918, the Austro-Hungarian army was defeated; they lost a battle. It was in the region of Veneto, near a town named King Vittorio Emanuele II. Afterward, the location was named Vittorio Veneto. Soon, many places were called Vittorio Veneto, even the Plebiscite Square (Piazza Del Plebiscito) in the southern city of Matera.

The Vittorio Veneto Square was originally Fontana Square for the fountain, restored in 1832 by King Ferdinando II. It was later called Plebiscite Square in favor of the Plebiscite of Rome in 1870. The spacious square overlooks the Annunziata Palace (Palazzo dell'Annunziata) and the Church of San Domenico.

The unique attraction of the square is the terrace with three round arches named Luigi Guerricchio Belvedere for the artist of Matera, Luigi Guerricchio. It is a portico with commanding city views, especially the Cathedral Basilica, Maria Santissima della Bruna. But the most remarkable attraction of the square is what lies under it.

Under the square are the old snow storage rooms, the Palombaro Lungo reservoir, and a tower once attached to the rear wall of Tramontano Castle. The Palombaro Lungo is an enormous cistern and part of the water collection system that feeds the fountain of King Ferdinand and once supplied the entire city with water.

Vittorio Veneto Square is an open-air venue for markets; and a popular meeting place for locals. The surrounding buildings trace the artistic heritage of city architecture through different periods.
Palombaro Lungo (Palombaro Lungo Cistern)

2) Palombaro Lungo (Palombaro Lungo Cistern) (must see)

Palombaro Lungo Cistern is more than a ordinary cistern. It has been called an underground "Water Cathedral." Located under the Vittorio Veneto Square, the Palombaro Lungo ("Long Diver") holds five million liters of rainwater and water from springs on the surrounding hills of La Nera, Lapillo, and Macamarda. The cistern is always filled. There are boat tours that explain to the visitors the history and functioning of the Palombaro Lungo.

The name "Palombaro" is thought to derive from the Latin word for a raptor that dives on its prey. It could also be from the Latin word "plumbarius," meaning water collector. "Lungo" means "long," a reference to the sheer size of the structure.

Pre-existing water caves were connected into a system to serve a burgeoning population in the 16th century. Because of the presence of people living in those caves, the Palombaro Lungo cistern was not completed until 1882. After being used for over a century, this system was abandoned in 1920 when the Apulian Aqueduct was built.

The "Diver" was rediscovered in 1991 by a group of students led by technical designer Enzo Viti. Enzo, an expert on the underground world of Matera, crossed through the cistern in a dinghy. His voyage underground made the Stones of Matera a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Visitors travel through the entire labyrinthian cistern, immersed in the atmosphere of a vast underground cathedral. The pillars, arches, apses, walls, soaring galleries, and dark, deep waters create an unforgettable experience.
Palazzo dell'Annunziata (Annunziata Palace)

3) Palazzo dell'Annunziata (Annunziata Palace)

The Annunziata Palace on Vittorio Veneto Square is one of many valuable pearls of Matera. The Baroque-style building of the 18th century is a former cloistered Dominican convent. Designed by architects Valentino da Bitonto and Manieri da Lecce, it currently houses the Provincial Library of Matera and its cultural heritage of books.

The two architects did not work together. In 1739 Valentino was let go, cause unknown. Manieri took over in 1742. The change in viewpoints is evident. Valentino followed the traditional monastic concept with the church at the center and the monastery around it. Manieri's changes can be seen in the four side windows.

Manieri demolished the church, replacing it with an internal courtyard. In 1844, engineer Gaetano di Giorgio built the Annunciation Church in the central enclosure. The nuns had their church at last, but the monastery was suppressed in 1861, and the property went to the city. The complex housed the city judiciary and a school.

In 1900, the clock and its cornice were placed on the facade. In the earthquake of 1980, the former convent was damaged, and its tenants moved out. The building was fully restored in 1998, and the Provincial Library "Tommaso Stigliani" was installed. In addition to an extensive collection of books and manuscripts, there is an important numismatic collection.
Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (Church of San Giovanni Battista)

4) Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (Church of San Giovanni Battista)

In 1215, nuns of the "penitent" Order of Saint Mary of Acre landed in Matera from the Middle East. They received a chapel called Santa Maria la Nova, formerly a Benedictine facility. In 1229 they commenced work on a new church as a replacement. The replacement church was completed in 1236. It remained in use until 1480.

In 1480, the Ottomans made peace with Venice and sought to expand into southern Italy, starting with Otranto city. The nuns noticed that the church was outside the city walls and the Turks were coming. They abandoned their church.

In 1695 the Turks were long gone, and the archbishop of Matera transferred the parish of Saint John the Baptist to the abandoned 13th-century church outside the walls. The church of Saint Mary of Acre became the church of Saint John the Baptist (San Giovanni Battista).

In the 18th-century additions, the sacristy was added along with the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. The three domes over the transept were demolished and replaced with vaults. The facade has a gallery of five arches. The center arch is the tallest. It frames the 13th-century portal. A statue of Saint John the Baptist is above the door.

The basic plan is a Latin cross. A central nave is topped with geometric "Lecce vaults" ( a type of composite vault with a shape that resembles a star) flanked on either side with cross vaults. A multi-colored altar is on the left with frescoes of Santa Maria la Nova. In the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament are a painting and sculptures by Matera artists Vito Antonio Conversi and Altobello Persio.
Sassi in Miniatura (Sassi in Miniature)

5) Sassi in Miniatura (Sassi in Miniature)

Sassi in Miniatura is a workshop and museum of miniature limestone models of old Matera. The workshop/museum is located on Fiorentini Street in the Sasso Barisano district. It is near the Matera Cathedral, the Tramontano Castle, and the Ridola Museum.

Starting in 1996, artist Eustachio Rizzi worked for three years creating the Sassi in Miniatura, a handmade scale model of Matera carved in tuff stone. The model covers 129 square feet and weighs about 3,500 pounds. The museum/workshop also displays and has on sale tuff stone objects and souvenirs.

Here are the streets, stairs, farmhouses, neighborhoods, balconies, and a miniature village with lighted churches, homes, and caves once the domiciles of people and animals. All are exact, done with Rizzi's optimistic skill. The corners of the Caveoso and Barisano districts, the alleys, and the mule paths unite the present with the past.
Cattedrale di Matera (Matera Cathedral)

6) Cattedrale di Matera (Matera Cathedral) (must see)

Matera Cathedral is an Apulian-Romanesque edifice of the 13th century. It sits on the highest spur of the old city that divides the two Sassi (Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano). The Matera Cathedral was completed in 1270. Unlike the interior, which has experienced many changes, the outside has remained almost intact.

The facade is dominated by a rose window of sixteen rays surmounted by Archangel Michael Crushing the dragon. Below is an Atlas apparently supporting the window. Descending from the pediment are 12 lemons symbolizing the evangelists and apostles.

The bell tower on the left side of the church stands 170 feet high. It has four floors; three have mullioned windows. The fourth floor has single-light windows with a pyramid above.

The main entrance has a full-basket arch with a lunette. On the sides are statues of Saints Peter and Paul. At the ends are the reliefs of Saints Eustachius and Theopist. Two crouching lions flank the right door. The prophet Abraham stands guard on the left.

Matera Cathedral has a Latin cross plan and three naves. The aisles are divided by arcades supported by ten ornate columns. Inside are a 13th-century Byzantine fresco of the Madonna della Bruna and Child by painter Rinaldo da Taranto, relics of Saint John of Matera, 60 carved choir stalls, and the sculpture Nativity Scene by Altobello Persio.

The wooden ceiling is decorated with three paintings by Calabrian artist Battista Santoro. The stucco decorations are covered in gold leaf. Considerable restoration work has been done to strengthen the medieval trusses and cornices. In March 2016, the Cathedral was re-opened for worship.

The incredible Chapel of the Annunciation, dating back to the 16th century, should not be missed. It is near the last chapel on the left. It has a coffered ceiling and niched walls. The chapel houses the statue of the Virgin Mary and the Angel on the altar, flanked by Saint Roch and Catherine of Alexandria. Above all this is a lunette with a pieta.
Casa Noha (Noha House)

7) Casa Noha (Noha House) (must see)

Noha House (Casa Noha) is an asset of the Italian Environmental Fund (Fondo Ambiente Italiano), known by its initials, FAI. The Fund, established in 1975, is aimed to protect elements of the physical heritage of Italy.

Located at the top of the oldest part of Matera, the 15th-century Noha House was once the residence of the noble Noha family. The Civita district was favored, by the nobility, as the best place to build their homes. From the Sedile Square (Piazza del Sedile) to the Cathedral Square (Piazza Duomo), there is a strip of palaces once belonging to noble families.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Nohas owned a complex of properties and gardens connected to the San Paolo district by a bridge called, not surprisingly, the Noha Bridge. The Casa Noha was built over an erosion channel in the Cavone district, an area shunned by other families as it was considered too unstable for building.

The Nohas purchased ruins in the area and used these materials to fortify the foundations. All this digging uncovered archeological artifacts from the Bronze and Iron Ages, Greek and Roman settlements, and the early Middle Ages.

Noha House is a prime example of the private architecture of the time, embellished by tuff framing and carvings. The house is partially covered. There are land service rooms around the courtyard. The home is basically within a cave. An external staircase leads to the residential area of the complex.

There is an informational thirty-minute video showing the history of Matera from the Stone Age to the present day. Earphones for several languages are available, and benches to sit on. The rooms are very cool in the hot Matera summers.

The FAI acquired Noha House in 2004. The Fund created a strong multimedia presentation that tells the millenary story of the area from the perspectives of architecture, art, and archaeology. The video is called "The Invisible stones. An extraordinary journey through the history of Matera."
Piazza San Pietro Caveoso (San Pietro Caveoso Square)

8) Piazza San Pietro Caveoso (San Pietro Caveoso Square)

San Pietro Caveoso Square is a vast square named for the church of Saints Peter and Paul that sits at its eastern edge. The area is a strategic starting point for a walking tour of Sassi (Matera's two districts: Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano). Looking towards Murgia Materana Park is a view of the deep ravine of the Gravina River and the caves facing Murgia rock walls.

For tourists, this is a convenient area for visiting the rock churches of the Madonna of Idris, the Monastery of Santa Lucia alle Malve, the St. Anthony Conviction Church (Convicinio di Sant'Antonio), the Cemetery of the Barbarians (Cimitero Barbarico), and the Grotto House (Casa Grotta). The area can be reached from Bruno Buozzi Street or from the Church of Madonna delle Virtu.

Internal paths will take one to the old lamias (rock homes) in a semi-abandoned part of Sasso Caveoso. These were some of the "houses of national shame." They are yet fascinating for their ancient cellars, stones, gardens, stables, and cave niches. An arch leads to the abandoned farmhouses of peasants and shepherds of the steep ravines.

Visiting the Caveoso is better in the daytime. A guided tour is recommended in the evenings, as the abandoned alleys are not illuminated.
Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo (Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church)

9) Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo (Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church)

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, also known as San Pietro Caveoso, sits at the eastern end of San Pietro Caveoso Square, overlooking the ravine of the Gravina River far below.

The Baroque-style facade has three portals. Each portal has a niche above holding a statue. The figures represented are "Madonna of the Mercy," "Saint Peter," and "Saint Paul." The side niches each have single rectangular windows above. The central portal is surmounted by two single-lancet windows.

A rose window is in the center gable. The three-stage bell tower has Gothic arch windows. There is an ornate balcony with corbels on the second level. The bell tower is capped with a three-stage tapered spire and a crucifix.

Inside, the ceiling of the central nave is decorated with pictures of "Jesus and Saint Peter" and "Saint Paul's Conversion." The 18th-century altar has a polyptych painted by a mysterious unknown Matera artist. There were originally eight chapels, but four were demolished to build the oratory.

In the fourth chapel on the left is a 13th-century baptismal font. The chapel is 56 feet wide and 141 feet long, with a deep choir. The church has recently been consolidated, improving stability between the building and the rock foundations.
Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario (Cave House of Lonely Alley)

10) Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario (Cave House of Lonely Alley) (must see)

A short walk from Sassi di Matera, the cave district of Matera, is Casa Grotta, the historic Cave House of Lonely Alley (Vico Solitario). Cave houses were abandoned by law in 1952. A visit to the Cave House in Lonely Alley will give an idea of what existence was like for the tenants in their caves.

The entrance arch of the Cave House, framed by a large rock cavity, is the only built element standing by the cave. The most recent changes within the cave date from the 1700s. In a large single room, spaces are marked out by furnishings. In the hearth/kitchen is a table with one large plate from which everyone had eaten.

A bed made of iron trestles and planks holds a corn mattress. Across from the bed is a manager for the family mule. On the other side of a partition are a space where the tufa rock is quarried and a circular pit for manure. There is a system for water collection consisting of canals and a cistern.

There is a brazier, a laundry tub, and a communal oven. The bed is high off the floor, away from dampness. The stables and like rooms are in the back. The kitchen, living room, dining room, and bedroom spaces are in the front for better light and aeration.

When the district was abandoned, it became a cave ghost town. Since then, however, many caves have been restructured as tourist lodgings and Bed & Breakfasts. Even with these improvements, the voices and aromas of 100 years ago seem to linger.

In the ancient snow collection cave nearby, B&W documentary videos show the lives of the cave people of yore. The neighboring rock church of San Pietro Monterrone dates from the 9th century AD.

The Cave House Museum is managed by Matera Theater Group (Gruppo Teatro Matera), a non-profit cultural association.
Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi (Lanfranchi Palace Museum)

11) Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi (Lanfranchi Palace Museum)

Lanfranchi Palace represents the best expression of 17th-century architecture in Matera. Originally a seminary, the palace was built in 1668 on the command of Bishop Vincenzo Lanfranchi in conformance with the Catholic dictates of the Council of Trent.

Construction was directed by Friar Francesco da Copertino. Friar Francesco completed the job in 1672. The complex incorporated pre-existing structures in its scenic facade. The palace, inaugurated in 2003, is a part of the National Museum of Matera. It houses the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata.

The museum is on Giovanni Pascoli Square. A reception service is on the ground floor in a corridor surrounding the cloister. The Pascoli and Levi rooms are venues for exhibitions and events. The sections dedicated to Sacred Art, Collectibles, and Contemporary Art are on the second floor.

The Room of the Arcades (Sala delle Arcate) on the second floor is a large room formed by the classrooms built by Giuseppe Siggillino, Monsignor Di Macco, reforming 19th-century Archbishop of Matera. The Room hosts temporary exhibitions, conventions, and conferences.

The Sacred Art section features paintings, sculptures, and wooden and stone artifacts. The exhibits come mainly from churches of the region. The collection section features canvasses of the Neapolitan school of the 17th and 18th centuries. Contemporary Art includes the works of Luigi Guerricchio and Carlo Levi.

Levi, a protagonist of Italian culture of the 20th century, was banished by the Fascist government to the poverty-stricken area of Matera. He wrote his famous novel here, "Christ Stopped at Eboli." His paintings show the life of the peasants of the town.
Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli (Pascoli Square Belvedere)

12) Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli (Pascoli Square Belvedere)

Next door to the 17th-century Lanfranchi Palace, home of the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata, is the tiny Pascoli Square (Piazzetta Pascoli). The square is named for the great 19th-century poet of Matera, Giuseppe Pascoli. Pascoli started in Matera as a high school teacher of literature. He would have liked the Belvedere, and here's why.

The Belvedere is, in effect, a balcony from which one can view the most striking and emotive prospects of the Sassi districts (Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano). It is a place for lovers and poets. In the evening, see the Civita Caves, Matera Cathedral, and the Sasso Caveoso, all a-glitter with lights "like sparkling pearls."

Japanese sculptor, Kengiro Azuma, exhibited his bronze work, "the Drop," in Pascoli Square in 2011. It is a drop of water, standing nearly ten feet high, a symbol of the importance of water in the life of Matera since the beginning.

Walk along the pedestrian Ridola Street and suddenly come upon Pascoli Square. Step up to the stone parapet and see the ingenuity of Matera. The city of stone fans out like an amphitheater. Spires, great rocks, pinnacles, grottos, and caves offer a timeless panorama. It is a place of peace and tranquility.
Via Ridola (Ridola Street)

13) Via Ridola (Ridola Street)

Ridola Street is nearly 657 feet long, connecting Lanfranchi Palace with Francesco Square. The street is named Domenico Ridola. Signore Ridola was a medical researcher and a self-taught archeologist. He was also a mayor of Matera and a senator.

The National Archaeological Museum "Domenico Ridola," named for Doctor Ridola, is housed in the 18th-century Santa Chiara Convent. The museum was instituted by Domenico Ridola's will in 1911. A room in the museum is dedicated to his manuscripts and relics, ranging from Neolithic times to the Magna Grecia era.

In the 18th century, Archbishop Antonio Del Ryos wanted a district built outside the Sassi districts (Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano) and Civita Caves. The area was called "New Houses." The construction was to house employees of the Seminary. The Council of Trent required this development in every diocese. This "18th-century backbone" of Matera would become Ridola Street.

Lanfranchi Palace, completed in 1672, is on Ridola Street. The wide street is lined with well-preserved 18th and 19th-century buildings. It separates the Sassi from the new city. Ridola Street houses the bust of Doctor Ridola, the Churches of San Francesco, and the Church of Purgatorio, with the facade of skulls. There are restaurants, bars, and places to enjoy the local cuisine.
Castello Tramontano (Tramontano Castle)

14) Castello Tramontano (Tramontano Castle)

There are no politics like feudal politics. One day, in 1506, King Ferdinand II of Naples decided to remove some baronies from counts in his kingdom and give them to Spanish nobles. Ferdinand liked Spanish nobles. He was a Spanish noble himself. When he learned of the King's plan, Gian Carlo Tramontano, Count of Matera, sprang into action.

Gian Carlo and his wife, Elisabetta, went to see the King. Elisabetta gave the King's wife a gold necklace and pearls worth 25,000 ducats, and Gian Carlo kept his county. Better yet, now he could finish his castle. He raised taxes.

The tax thing was a bridge too far for the people of Matera. They were already on edge about the Count's habit of "Droit de Seigneur" (right of the lord), the bedding of every new bride in the county on her wedding night.

One day in 1514, as the couple was leaving holy mass at the Cathedral of Matera, angry peasants set upon the duke, stripping him and beating him to death. The countess escaped unharmed. Church bells rang, and work on the castle stopped. The Count's castle remained unfinished. In 2008, restoration work on the building and the surrounding park began.

The Tramontano Castle was constructed in the Aragonese style, with a central keep flanked by two lower towers. The towers and keep have been round with crenelated tops. The walls are also crenelated. The goal of the restoration is to renew the moat and the tufa walls. The project is financed by lottery funds.

Walking Tours in Matera, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Matera

Create Your Own Walk in Matera

Creating your own self-guided walk in Matera is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Matera's Ancient Cave Churches

Matera's Ancient Cave Churches

Within the old city of Matera, there are more than 160 churches. Many of these are actually carved into the soft limestone cliffs lining the Gravina River. There are even some used for pagan rituals. The churches were carved from existing caves and tunnels. More than a few sanctified cave churches have been converted to storage and homes.

A good example to start with is the St. Anthony...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles