If you have never been to Matera, I urge you to go. It is nothing like you have ever seen, or can imagine. The movies “Passion of the Christ” and “The Nativity Story” were both filmed here. That may give you an inkling of the ancient feel this unique town evokes.
I am not religious, so my fascination was not connected with that. It was, instead, because I felt as if I had stepped back several centuries into the past. I could taste the oldness. I could smell the ancient air. Despite the heat, I had goosebumps.
Matera’s history lies in layers as thick as the dust on its paths. One of the oldest continually-inhabited settlements in the world, this city of cave and stone formations reveals evidence of ancient dwellers dating from the Paleolithic Age through the Bronze and Iron Ages. Archaeologists have unearthed Greek and Roman artifacts, and inside the rock-hewn churches, fading Byzantine frescoes still adorn the walls.
The old town is divided into two parts: Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. Since sasso means stone, you might imagine the nature of these two districts. The two quarters hang above two large canyons, spilling down the hillsides of tufa rock. The soft limestone surfaces are riddled with caves, some natural and some carved out by resourceful residents, creating houses and churches.
Today, restaurants and hotels have taken over some of the abandoned caves making it possible for tourists like us to eat and sleep in a cave. We were headed to one such restaurant: Ristorante Le Botteghe.