The landscape of Matera is probably already familiar to you, even if you’ve never heard of it, because the Italian city has served as the backdrop for Hollywood epics such as Wonder Woman, The Passion of the Christ and Ben-Hur.
The ancient Sassi district in Matera
Unlike other European Old Towns that often include cobbled streets, wooden houses and traditional architecture, the Old Town in Matera is carved out of rock. Around 8000 BCE, the inhabitants of Matera dug their homes out of the surrounding cliffs, resulting in a fantastical stone city that has survived into the present day. This neighbourhood, known as ‘The Sassi’, can only be explored on foot, and you’re able to spend the night there in one of the many ‘cave’ hotels.
The Madonna delle Vergini rock church
The unique architecture of The Sassi is accompanied by truly gorgeous scenery, even by the standards of the ever-picturesque south of Italy. Rough-hewn pavements and craggy houses rise up to touch the sky and, on a sunny day, the moss and mountain grasses covering the city practically glow. Sunrise is when the city is at its most appealing, so make sure to book a room with a view for an unforgettable start to the day.
UNESCO funding has helped preserve Matera
The forced relocation of The Sassi’s residents in the 1950s was meant to give them a better quality of life. In reality, it took a long time for the area to recover, and there are a number of tours devoted to educating visitors about its consequences. Thankfully, funding from the government and UNESCO has helped to preserve the Matera residents’ traditional way of life. Today, you can stay in one of the city’s oldest buildings: La Corte Dei Pastori.
The fictional city of Themyscira
The Sassi has been used by filmmakers as a stand-in for many ancient kingdoms, from Jerusalem to the fictional Amazonian city of Themyscira in the recent Wonder Woman film. Other notable epics shot here include The Passion of the Christ, Ben Hur and The Nativity Story. After the city’s inhabitants forced relocation, an effort was made to maintain Matera’s culture and many of the hotels (such as Myricae and B&B Solosud) run their own tours to introduce guests to the local culture.
** The data scientists at Booking.com looked at the activities most endorsed in Matera by international travellers. This is part of a series looking at the top 10 trending destinations for 2018.