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Visiting Matera, Italy - one of the oldest cities in the world

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

Matera is definitely one of the most fascinating and unique cities in the world. Located in the Southern region of Basilicata in Italy, the city has emerged from being the slum of Italy, to a hidden gem, to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to become the European Capital of Culture in 2019 and is now on the verge of becoming the go-to destination when you’re visiting Italy.

Matera is mostly known for its large and ancient cave dwelling complex. These caves, used as homes for families including their animals, are also called Sassi (which means Stones). The city offers marvelous views of old stone buildings, rock churches and an impressive ravine.

Boys with Drones decided to visit Matera, and film and photograph the city with a DJI Air 2S drone.

Photographed Matera by Night with our DJI Air 2S

What’s the history of Matera?

We can’t say with complete certainty what the exact date of the beginning of the Matera settlement is. However, pieces of evidence show inhabitants from the ancient Paleolithic to the Neolithic period. In this period, caves were usually used as a shelter. The area has been inhabited for the past 8,000 years, making it potentially one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in the world.

Since its existence, Matera has been occupied by many rulers from various parts of Europe. This is why Matera has such a wide variety of culture and architecture. In 251 BC, the town of Matera was founded by the Roman Lucius Caecilius Metellus, who named it Matheola. The Lombards conquered Matera in AD 664, and it became part of the Duchy of Benevento. From the 8th century onwards, the city expanded. This was the period when it was colonized by Basilian, Byzantine and German emperors (among others). The 9th and 10th centuries were characterized by the struggle between the Byzantines and the German emperors, who partially destroyed the city. After a series of pestilences, earthquakes and rebellion, Matera was handed over to the Orsini family in the 17th century. Up till 1806, Matera was the capital city of the province of Basilicata until it was assigned to Potenza.

Until the 1950s, people used to live in the caves, which are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what we now know as Italy. Many of these caves are really small, and it is hard to imagine that families of 8+ people including their animals, without running water or a sewer, used to live in them. As part of an Italian policy to clear the extreme poverty of the Sassi (ancient Matera town), the government forced all 16,000 inhabitants to leave their caves and relocate to new and modern housing. Until the end of the 80s, the Sassi was still considered to be an area of poverty, and an empty shell. The dwellings were, and in most cases still are, simply uninhabitable and dangerous. Regeneration of the Sassi into a ‘tourist attraction’, under present local administration, has caused the city to become one of the fastest growing cities in Southern Italy. The amount of tourists visiting Matera is increasing year by year, and the city has also been a popular shooting location for movies such as Passion of the Christ, Oman, The Wonder Woman, and most recently James Bond - No Time to Die.

Where to stay when you visit Matera?

If you decide to visit Matera, and we highly recommend it (don’t wait too long!), we would love to suggest staying at the amazing Sextantio hotel. This five-star hotel doesn’t just provide you with a room to stay, but an experience you will never forget. The Sextantio hotel is located in the oldest part of the city (in the Sassi), and provides a spectacular view of the Murgia park and its rock-hewn churches. The inspiring entrepreneurs running the Sextantio hotel, have created the hotel while preserving the integral conservation of the original site and its promiscuous use, from religious rituals to the daily agricultural and pastoral subsistence. Who wouldn’t want to sleep in a cave lit with candles at least once in their lives? The daily breakfast has the most delicious homemade and local products, and if you have the chance book a private dining evening in the deconsecrated church which is part of the hotel. You won’t regret it.

Boys with Drones is not affiliated with the Sextantio hotel - we just had an amazing time.

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