Masseria Radogna, Matera (with video!)February 11, 2017 in Italy
We filmed a video from the Matera Ravine, to access it go to:
The sun shone and the temperature had risen to 21°C as we continued north from Taranto and away from the coast. We came across whole fields of vines whose supporting trellises had collapsed upon them with what we presume was the weight of the unexpected snowfall nearly a month ago. A few fields were bare, with cut vines, trelis and netting balled up at the sides.
The hilly terrain became stony and instead of crops we saw quarries and herds of sheep and goats. We'd singled out the area around Matera as worth a visit because of the unique 'Sassi' or rock dwellings in the area. The limestone had made it ideal for homes to be hewn into the rock and thousands of people lived in them, right up until the 1960s when 20, 000 were forcibly evicted in order to improve the health of the community.
We were making a beeline towards a stopover in the town when we saw a sign for one that seemed to be in a rural location. We took a chance and turned round to head towards it. Arriving at an information centre, we were told their campsite was just a few hundred metres up the road at €10 a night. The area looked beautiful with scrubby grass, rock and dry stone walls all around, so we decided to stay. The person at the information centre was very helpful, giving us maps and after checking we didn't suffer from vertigo, showing us a route we could walk to Matera, through the ravine.
Arriving at the campsite, we saw it had been a smallholding, and still had a couple of polytunnels, patches of lavender, rosemary, a few old red wheelbarrows lying about and some bee hives. Light bulbs were strung between the main house and a small stone built place of worship. There was a little building with old terracotta tiles on the roof that had been converted into toilets and the site was surrounded and intersected by dry stone walls. There was a peace about the place as the birds sang from the olive trees and we were very glad we had taken that chance!
It was nearly dusk and so too late to walk to Matera. Instead, we took a stroll down the hill to explore some nearby Sassi. For the two of us to be able to just wander in and out of the caves at our own pace and by ourselves was a brilliant way to explore. We didn't know much about how the living arrangements were set up but our imaginations were fired up!
Taking the recommended route to Matera, we cycled until the road ended, then began to walk along the narrow path worn into the grass. There were caves close to the path and after a while the deep Matera Ravine revealed itself, its steep sides pitted with caves. Some were natural, but most were enlarged to create Sassi. As we looked over to the town atop the opposite side, there was a mergence between houses carved out of rock and the same rock being used as the bricks in the houses above.
Along the way we met a herd of cows with their traditional bells clanging loudly. We were amazed how well they traversed the precipitous slopes and were later told by the campsite manager that this breed were only 'pretend cows' who were really goats! They were also the source of the Caciocavallo cheese we had sitting in our fridge. Apparently the BBC had filmed their annual journey to the mountains as part of its Italy Unpacked documentary.
After crossing the rope bridge strung accross the river and ascending the steep side we explored the streets and found a restaurant with tables outside to eat lunch and watch the tourists wandering by.
Rejuvenated, we climbed higher to a spur of rock within Matera to look at one of the Sasso churches, a series of 3 large caves with archways and columns rising to support the roof which was stained green with copper oxide. The walls had been smoothed and plaster added to them so that frescoes could be painted, many of which were crumbling and faded now. There were electric uplights set in to the floor now but we could picture the candles that would have been flickering, warming and lighting the space when it was first brought into use.
Our final stop was one of the Casa Grotte (house caves), a kind of living Sasso museum, set up as it would have been when it was in use. It had all the furniture, kitchen units, agricultural and clothes making tools and even photos of the people who used to live there displayed as they would have been on the dressing table. It felt really homely and made us think what a wrench the forced eviction must have been for all those thousands of people.
We returned for a peaceful night at the campsite and set off the next day with Matera on our list of places to return to. There were so many interesting things that we hadn't seen and done but Italy us a large country and if we stayed as long as we wanted at each place, we probably spend a whole year, if not longer here!Read more