Ancient and dry, the city of Matera in the province of Basilicata felt a bit like stepping back in time. And, due to the oppressive sun, at times we had the piazze and alleyways all to ourselves. Quite literally, this is a city that was hewn from the rocky mountainside. People reside in thousands of cave dwellings here (or they go on Airbnb), where the rock keeps temperatures cool.
While the views are beautiful and impressive, it was an intense afternoon of exploring. We got up early to drive to Matera. We parked in the modern cityside, walking through a vast piazza on our way to gelato. Quite randomly, we booked a tour for noon at an underground cistern. We had some time to spend, so we started the walk down through the sassi (stones) neighborhood.
Pictures really do not capture the layers of the vistas and stairways. Practically stacked on top of each other, building after building crawl up the hillside, like an M.C. Escher lithograph. I remember just looking out at the empty streets feeling that this didn’t even look real, and I was standing right there. What few people there were down below stuck to the shade and shadows.
After walking through the parched city and taking it all in, we had to go back up for our cistern tour. This was a tough hike in the sun, but thankfully the cistern was underground, very “cool” as in temperature, and also very neat! I am glad we did it. The smooth cave ceilings vaulted above us and the water within. We spent as long as we could as a nice reprieve.
Our main activity today though was a fancy lunch actually within one of the sassi dwellings, which had been turned into a restaurant. We did a quick wardrobe change on the street because we were so sweaty and gross from walking. The interior of the restaurant reminded me of the Airbnb we were going to stay in during our 2020 vacation that never happened. Lunch was a fantastic experience, and we walked again back up the mountain to our car to end the day and head back to Alberobello.