The Second Bethlehem

A walk through Matera’s historic center will transport visitors back into a past long-forgotten. The zone was already inhabited during the Paleolithic Era, when the first settlements were established in these calcarenite grottoes. Here the human ecosystem has been perfectly incorporated into the outlying natural environment, and has perpetuated throughout the centuries. The settlements have undergone various adaptations in each of the diverse historical epochs, from the first subterranean dwellings, to the sophisticated urban structures that followed, built with the materials extracted from the local rock – thus, they are an excellent example of the right use of natural resources.

The terrain around Matera, so evocative as to earn the nickname “The Second Bethlehem,” has impressed writers, artists and directors for centuries; you may recall that Mel Gibson chose to film The Passion of the Christ here. In the 1950s, the people that lived in these caverns were transferred to modern quarters while the Sassi underwent complex restoration works, the objective of which was to return them to their original beauty.

Matera: The Sassi and Rupestrian Churches