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Matera – Biblical (film) setting in Italy

Matera, the cave city in Basilicata in southern Italy, is one of the oldest and most extraordinary cities in the world. Are you ready for time travel?

Matera Italy Basilicata Troglodyte Sassi Panorama

​My primary school friend Uli has made me green with envy more than once in my life: in primary school because she got better grades; after her studies, as she happily studied architecture in Florence while I sat in cold England; and recently, when it started, in southern Italy - more precisely in the Basilicata region, the sole of the boot – to restore old palaces.

Matera: time travel in Italy

Now you shouldn't be resentful, and so I set off to visit her in the promised land of Italy. I am quite astonished to realize that “promised land” is exactly the right expression. As soon as she shows me the city of Matera, I'm not sure whether we haven't gotten very, very lost:

I see ancient Jerusalem and not a small town in Italy!

Matera Italy Basilicata Troglodyte Sassi panoramic black and white film set

​A deep gorge cuts through a steep valley - while one side is barren, rocky and completely undeveloped, drying in the sun, on the other side of the river there are thousands of small stone houses in, under and dug over the rock, piled up and built. At first glance I can hardly tell whether it is nature or buildings - the mountain is riddled with caves. The city of Matera in Italy looks as if a Roman patrol à la Asterix could be around the corner at any time.

Apparently I'm not the only one who immediately thinks of the perfect film set: Matera was the background for Mel Gibson's bloody crucifixion in his film "The Passion of the Christ" . Paolo Pasolini also found the perfect conditions here for his “Gospel according to Matthew”. And James Bond also raced through the narrow streets of the cave city in "No Time to Die.

You can now even have a City tour on the trail of James Bond book.

No wonder: the panorama is unadulterated - no ugly houses, no wide streets and therefore no cars that obscure the view of another time.

9,000 year old history

The Sassi (cave dwellings) are considered an exceptional example of human habitation around the world. The area has been inhabited since the Neolithic period, making it one of the oldest cities on earth.

"Matera is the only place in the world where residents can claim to live in the same houses in which their ancestors lived 9,000 years ago"

Uli quotes the well-known English travel guide Fodor's.

Matera Italy Basilicata Troglodyte Sassi

​Over the millennia, a maze of small alleys, squares, caves, rock churches and cellars have emerged that reach down to the depths of the earth. The roofs are used as floors for the apartments above or as paths. Behind every door you discover a new architectural wonder - what looks like a small cave from the outside branches out into many chambers dug into the mountain. Those who walk in the Sassi often come across chimneys rising from the ground - the only sign that the path runs straight over a roof.

Until 1950, residents lived here under the most primitive conditions together with their pets in the middle of the dwellings dug into the tuff.

Not very contemporary and bad for the image of a country that wanted to demonstrate modernity to the emerging tourism industry.

Consequently, the residents of the “national disgrace” were relocated, the Sassi have been renovated since the 70s, they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and now, deservedly, they are not only a film set but also a tourist attraction . The crowning achievement of his stellar career was his election as Culture Capital 2019.

Tour through the Sassi - the old city districts with cave dwellings
Matera Italy Basilicata Rock Churches Cave

Today Matera captivates thousands of researchers, artists and tourists. Not only is it worth visiting the churches of Santa Lucia and Madonna delle Tre Porte; the numerous frescoes and chapels with which the monks who used to live in the Sassi decorated the cave dwellings are also worth visiting a viewing.

The city map, which you get in every accommodation, contains some good suggestions for city tours. Nevertheless, it is worth going on a journey of discovery even without a fixed plan: in addition to some cave dwellings worth visiting, there are also dozens of rock churches in the city, and hundreds throughout the entire area. And then the “normal” churches – from the Romanesque cathedral and the church of San Giovanni to the baroque church of San Francesco and the Purgatorio, the cityscape offers one delightful image after another in a very small space. Luckily, there are also lovely little cafes and restaurants with spectacular views to put your feet up and wash down great food with local wine, the envy of such a place to live.

Key facts about the trip to Matera in Italy:

Matera Welcome is the official site of the City. Here you can see the best way to get there, where you can sleep and all sorts of other useful tips are also available here.

Get there:

Ryainair offers flights around €60 from Karlsruhe to Bari with the usual chicanery. For example, Alitalia flies daily from Frankfurt, costs around €180 depending on the travel time.

It is almost 60 kilometers from Bari to Matera. Either you rent a rental car from around €50 for 3 days from, for example,, or you drive a lot cheap with the airport bus for €6 per trip - bookable for example via - this takes 90 minutes, Unfortunately (depending on the season) it only runs two to four times a day.

Parking in Matera is not without its problems, as most accommodations can only be reached via a maze of steep alleys - it's best to ask when booking how best to get to the accommodation and where the nearest parking options are located. You are usually picked up from the parking lot on foot and guided through the streets.


A living experience of a different kind awaits the traveler in the Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita (Via Civita, 28, Tel: +39 0835 332744). The rooms are located in the Sassi caves. With their archaic charm, the rooms of this unusual 4-star hotel immediately captivate the guest. The view over the adjacent Gravina Gorge is just as breathtaking as the spacious cave rooms themselves. This journey through time is not necessarily cheap: the cheapest cave double room with breakfast costs around €170.

For those on a smaller budget - in the centrally located Piazza del Sedile, the square above the old town, the B&B Residenza dei Suoni (Piazza del Sedile, 17, Tel: +39 0835 33700) elegant rooms with wooden floors. Through a small passage at the end of the square you can immediately reach the millennia-old Sassi.

Double rooms with breakfast cost around €90.


PANECOTTO (Vico Bruno Buozzi , 10, Sasso Caveoso – Matera, Tel. +39-835 331325 combines social commitment, traditional crafts, regional products and delicious food in a small cave where you can not only eat delicious antipasti, but also buy groceries. Reservation recommended.

The Trattoria Lucana (Via Lucana, 48, Tel:+39 0835 336117, was during the filming of "Passion of the Christ" Mel Gibson's favorite restaurant.

City tours:

Matera Tourismo offers various city tours - from classic tours, cooking courses, cycling routes to the James Bond tour.

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