In the morning all became clear. Just like the tourists I deride for arriving in Cappadocia without realizing that it’s an area rather than a place, I’d made the mistake of assuming Matera was home to the cave houses, when in fact what I needed was Sassi, the part of town that slithered down the hillside beside the main road.
Sassi means “the Stones” in Italian, and it was here that all those lovely cave hotels and restaurants I’d dreamt about were to be found. Actually, even that turned out to be only part of the story, there being two Sassi, one of them, Sassi Barisano, full of Göreme-style cave houses with stone-built facades, the other, Sassi Caveoso, with more basic cave structures, mostly now abandoned.
I suppose the most striking difference between Matera/Sassi and the Cappadocian settlements is one of sheer size. Matera is a real town with not just the cave settlement but also a later Baroque quarter of magnificent churches and grand mansions as well as a modern quarter that is a fine example of proper town planning. The whole conglomeration perches above a rocky ravine with a stream running along the bottom of it, rather as if Göreme and the Ihlara Gorge had been pushed against Nevşehir to make one large settlement. Except, of course, that Nevşehir is a charmless place of dreary concrete while Matera is built of a lovely silvery-beige stone and projects at all times the casual chic that is such a hallmark of Italy.
Postcard from Matera (1): Greetings from the Sassi! Today’s Zaman
Foto fatta a Matera