Monday, April 4, 2016


Having been in Italy with family for a bit, it was pretty exciting to go back to travel mode for our day trip to Matera.
I'm quite partial to Gravina but Matera is definitely a more traveled place. It's set for tourists with little souvenirs and everything. The reason is this place is prehistoric. Here is one of the very first human settlements. In both Gravina and Matera you can easily view troglodyte homes in the side of the mountains and also carved into the existing stone, which serves a foundation for the city. What looks like small holes in the photo here are actually fairly large caves. Some, with prehistoric carving and painting inside. What happened in the sassi, or ancient city, of Matera is these carved rock homes were built up over centuries. (Click below to read on.)

Within the small structures you see in the photo to the right, there is evidence of the old caves and sometimes the cave was left as-is and they just built around it. Amazing. My cousin Annie and her uncle Michele drove us over to Matera and showed us around the city. They were almost bored haha but I have to assume they take a lot of people over. Growing up and living so near, it must lose it's appeal. Of course, mom and I were enthralled - taking photos of every nook and cranny.  I researched a lot of information when I got home. 
Tramontano Castle - partially carved from the mountain
Turns out the boom of tourism to Matera increased the city's ability to sustain itself and maintain the site. So, good and bad as always. For most of modern times and up to the 1980's Matera was poverty stricken and found many people living in these "uninhabitable" stone dwellings (ironically their original purpose). Noted as one of Western Europe's most impoverished towns, the tourism now has created an absolute turn around.

"Caves were all well and good for Palaeolithic and later peoples. They proved less acceptable for 20th-century inhabitants. By the Thirties, 20,000 people, mostly landless peasants, were crammed into the sassi, literally the “stones”, as the town’s two main cave districts, the Barisano and Caveoso, are known. They had no heat, light or sanitation. Men, women, children and animals slept together. Illiteracy stood at 90 per cent, infant mortality at 50 per cent. Malaria, trachoma, cholera, typhoid and malnutrition were rife. Even by the standards of Italy’s impoverished south, the sassi were an abomination." [Telegraph, September 2013]
Now the people of Matera work in the dwellings selling and sharing stories/giving tours. I'm so glad the city changed for the better and we were able to witness it during the good times.

It ended up being the perfect day to walk around and take in the sassi. It's really large actually. The sandy stone making up the foundation of the ravine and thick clay soil built up on either side, it is easy to understand why cave dwellers would have viewed Matera as an idea spot to settle. Fertile land surrounding the area with the protection of either side of the ravine. Plus the agreeable climate for a majority of the year and lack of modern disruption makes the sassi perfect for filming ancient cities. Passion of the Christ seems to be the biggest film that used the sassi. I need to watch it now...never got around to it (and it seems like a terrible movie).

Later that evening, the most amazing thing happened. My Italian family - Anna Maria to be exact - taught us how to make pasta, the family pasta. So cool. I love pasta, always have. My mom too. She's made some now and then but never regularly and always in sheets with a pasta roller. Short story, I never learned so this was HUGE. Cavatelli. Now, cavatelli as a pasta is much different than cavatelli like my family makes it. It's generally made using the same dough mixture, but it's all about the pasta forming. I'm not giving away our secret on this. All I'll say is: now, 3 months later, I've made it 4 times and I'm only getting better. If we're friends, maybe I'll send you some for Christmas.
Up next on my Italian adventure: Bari. Ta ta for now xo