5. Cave City Sassi di Matera
The cut in the rocks and baked Mediterranean sun, Sassi forms an urban complex of prehistoric habitation, which, in fact, is simple caves, one above the other.
It’s a maze, consisting of a number of underground passages and caves, hiding the relics of the past.
The Sassi di Matera («Stones of Matera» in English) 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 originate from a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and are suspected to be among the first human settlements in Italy. There is evidence that people were living here as early as the year 7000 BC.
The Sassi are houses dug into the calcarenitic rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia, locally called «tufo» although it is not volcanic tuff or tufa. The streets in some parts of the Sassi often run on top of other houses. The ancient town grew up 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 unhealthy living conditions were considered an affront to the new Italian Republic of Alcide De Gasperi. However, people continued to live in the Sassi, and according to the English Fodor’s guide:
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.