It was after our rather disappointing discoveries in Pompeii that we followed Erin’s parents blindly to the next overnight spot they had chosen, Matera. Parking in the small town was a mission, but we found a carpark and started our walk through the scenic town square towards our cave hotel (our first cave hotel in Turkey is still the most amazing underground place we have stayed). Despite having no expectations or knowledge on the region, we could see there was something uniquely beautiful about Matera.
The architecture and style reflected the rich history. Founded in the 3rd century BC, it has been conquered numerous times, survived devastating earthquakes and endured political turmoil.
Filmmakers have also used it as a setting for ancient Jerusalem, including Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
The Matera Cathedral, built over 4 years starting in 1268, dominates the skyline of the old city, “Sassi di Matera” (meaning “stones of Matera”). It is easy to appreciate the magnificent churches, rock-carved houses, frescoes, sculptures, and ancient cisterns. The atmosphere in the evening we arrived was surreal - still air, clear sky and almost no sound emanating from the old town. The closely packed carved stone houses create a natural sound absorbing effect.
Matera is a more common holiday destination for Italians, and relatively few foreigners visit because it’s more out of the way than the popular tourist destinations of Rome, Venice, Florence and Sorrento. So we found the language barrier was noticeable, but fortunately the manager at our hotel could speak English fairly well.
Come for a sunrise walk with me
Rather than a regular blog post about what we got up to, I wanted to do something completely different which better reflected the atmosphere of this town. We were only stopping for 1 night and my father-in-law suggested doing a sunrise photography walking tour with him the following morning, which sounded like a great idea. My alarm awoke me at 5:30am, a much earlier-than-usual start for me, but I wanted to capture the beautiful sunrise light.
We planned on using our walkie talkies to find each other and rendezvous, but unfortunately the thick stone walls of the town blocked our signal so I wasn’t able to find my fellow photography enthusiast. So I started the walk around the old town by myself and captured shots along the way. The narrow, winding walkways were a maze, but it was fun getting lost amongst the stunning buildings. The streets felt eerily deserted. There were no sounds, stirrings or signs of life. The town was fast asleep.
So come along with me for a virtual walking photography tour through Matera at sunrise.
Most of the houses and hotels could only be accessed via foot. At the bottom of the valley a narrow cobblestone street separated the two sides of the old town and provided the only vehicle access to the basin.
The ascending pathways crisscrossed like a labyrinth and I used sheer luck to make my way up to the top of the eastern side of the valley. Most of the houses on this half of town were abandoned, although there were some signs of life.
As the sun started to rise, a warm glow filled the valley. From my vantage point at the base of the Matera Cathedral I finally made contact with Brian as the walkie talkie picked up a direct line of sight with him across the valley. We decided to continue the walking tour separately and I made my way down the eastern side of the hill behind the cathedral.
As the time went by more residents were quietly waking up and the delicious aroma of cooked breakfasts and fresh tea wafted down the alleyways, tempting the senses.
A deep valley created a natural barrier to the east of town and I followed along it to reach a magnificent church perched on a steep cliff. Such a beautiful view.
Now that the sun was getting higher in the sky I started seeing people leaving their homes, getting out and about, so it was time to make the trek back to my family and get ready for breakfast.
I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour through the unique and spectacularly scenic town of Matera. When you next visit Italy, I highly recommend that you take a walk yourself at sunrise through Matera. Even if you’re not a "morning person", I’m sure you’ll agree it’s well worth the effort.