Sassi di Matera

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"Sassi" redirects here. For the village in Estonia, see Sassi, Estonia.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
The Sassi of Matera
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, iv, v
Reference 670
UNESCO region Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1993 (17th Session)

The Sassi di Matera (meaning "stones of Matera") are ancient cave dwellings in the Italian city of Matera, Basilicata. Situated in the old town, they are composed of the Sasso Caveoso and the later Sasso Barisano.


The "Sassi" grew in the area of Murgia Plateau,[1] extended between Apulia and Basilicata.


Panoramic view from the Canyon (Gravina)

The Sassi originate from a prehistoric (troglodyte) settlement, and are suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy.[2]

The Sassi are houses dug into the calcarenitic rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Puglia, and is locally called "tufo" though it is not volcanic tuff or tufa. Many of these "houses" are really only caverns, and the streets in some parts of the Sassi often are located on the rooftops of other houses. The ancient town grew in height on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream. The ravine is known locally as "la Gravina".

In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. Riddled with malaria, the unsanitary conditions were considered an affront to the new Italian Republic of Alcide De Gasperi.[3] However, people continued to live in the Sassi, and according to the English Fodor's guide[when?]:

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.

Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since these houses were, and in most areas still are, mostly uninhabitable. 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. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels.



Sassi with snow (December 2007)

The Sassi are reminiscent of ancient sites in and around Jerusalem, and for this reason the Sassi have been used in many films, including The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, 1964), King David (Bruce Beresford, 1985), The Passion of the Christ (Gibson, 2004) and The Nativity Story (Hardwicke, 2006).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Info about the Murgia Plateau
  2. ^ History of the Sassi
  3. ^ Dennis Marks, speaking on the series Appian Way, BBC Radio 3.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°40′00″N 16°36′30″E / 40.6667°N 16.6083°E / 40.6667; 16.6083