Provincial capital of Basilicata
A provincial capital, hemmed in with badlands, lumpy outcrops of rock and precipitous sassi (see page 260). The Ridola Museum on Via Ridola tells the whole story of the one-time cave dwellings, and 100 m south you can embark on the Strada Panoramica dei Sassi, which takes you along the rim of the gorge to the north end of town, about 1.5 km. Artists, archaeologists and crafts workers have made their homes at Matera, which has historical links with, and a museum devoted to Carlo Levi, author of Christ Stopped at Eboli.You might believe that you were coming into a lively modern city, unless it is noon, when the men gather in Piazza Vittorio Veneto for patriarchal discussions. No woman dare show her face.
An austere Romanesque cathedral has some sculpture worth looking at. Annexed to Palazzo Lanfranchi is a picture gallery with works of the Neapolitan schools, from Mattia Preti to Salvatore Rosa. One large church called Purgatorio is dedicated to the dead – a common custom in Basilicata. On the north-east shore of Lake San Giuliano, 12 km south of town, is a wildlife reserve.
Villa holidays: the Matera area plus all of Puglia and Basilicata offer many holiday rental properties.
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