We drive from the very old town of Taranto to a city which might be even older – people have been living in and around Matera for millennia’s and it might be the third longest inhabited city in the world. The reason people have been living in this area for so long is the easy availability of caves.
The caves are what make the city famous. The people of the area were living in so called Sassi which was a collection of troglodyte dwellings dug into the rock surrounding Matera area. People actually lived in these cave up until the middle of the 20th century. In the 1950s the living condition in these areas led to Matera being label as the shame of Italy. The people still living in the caves were being moved out and into more modern housing. So today nobody live in the caves anymore.
Today you can go through the old town with the many stairs leading up and down to explore the old town of Matera. It will give you a good workout since there will be no transport option bare you on two legs.
We went in and visited one of the sassi districts to have a closer look at how the people lived in the not so old days. Most of the old caves are just sealed off today but some is open to the public and you can buy a ticket and see a small exhibition of life in the caves.
We go into a small museum which has recreated one of the old cave houses. The old house inside the cave was basically one big room – inside which the family lived, slept, cooked and had the livestock staying next to the family. The cave had a tendency to be damp along the ground – to handle the dampness the bed was put up quite high so the parents of the family could get away from the moisture. The little crib inside the room seem not to have the same feature so the baby would have to struggle with the damp conditions close to the ground.
Next to the little cave house is another cave you can go and visit. Inside this cave used to be a little church – apparently there are quite a few churches like this one around the old cave district of Matera.
The condition people used to live under only a couple of generations ago surprise me a bit – I knew southern Italy was a one of the poorest region of Europe – but I had no idea living conditions could be so rough in a western European country it was something I thought would only exist in other less developed parts of the world.