Matera is a town famous for its amazing cave dwellings, the ash grey sassi were hollowed out centuries ago and used for habitation. They were one of the oldest inhabited settlements in the world. The sassi used to be quite prosperous homes, featuring an ingenious system of canals regulating the flow of fresh water and sewage. The area become so prosperous the Matera became the capital of Basilicata in 1663.

During the early 19th century Matera faced an unsustainable increase in population. People looked for shelter in the grottoes that were originally intended as animal stalls and lacked both light and running water. As a result they had to be cleared and the inhabitants forcibly relocated during the fascist and post war eras, in part because people lived in such close quarters disease spread becoming epidemics. In recent years people have begun to return to the sassi, converting them to shops and small restaurants to cater for the rise in tourism to the area.

Besides the dwellings there are more than one hundred cave churches scattered throughout the area. In 1993 Matera’s sassi were declared a Unesco World Heritage site.

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