Introducing Matera: European Capital of Culture 2019

03 May 2019 08:17

Matera is one of the two 2019 European Capitals of Culture

Matera is one of the two 2019 European Capitals of Culture

Have you heard about Matera?

No, what is it?

One of the most unique cities in Europe, Matera is widely believed to be the third-longest continuously inhabited human settlement in the world.

Wow! Where is it?

You'll find the hilltop city of Matera in the far south of Italy, around a 90-minute train ride south of the atmospheric port city of Bari.

What's special about it?

You mean being the third-longest continuously inhabited place in the world isn't impressive enough? OK, well how about the fact that Matera grew up around its many winding natural cave dwellings called sassi that are cut into the limestone rock? And that visitors to the town can not only wander around these ancient homes but also eat, drink and even stay in caves that have been in use for around 7,000 years?

OK, that sounds amazing. But why are you telling me this now?

Because 2019 sees Matera take on the mantle of European Capital of Culture, sharing the title with the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv. This means there's a whole calendar of events taking place in the city – from opera shows to dressmaking classes – so there's something for everyone.

What else is there to do there?

The skyline of Matera's old town is dominated by the hilltop 13th century cathedral which is well worth a visit, as is the Crypt of Original Sin, home to several 8th century frescoes, around 7km south of the town. However, simply walking around Matera is an adventure in itself. Its ancient, winding streets making you feel like you've been spirited back to the ancient Holy Lands, which is why the town was used for the filming of 2004 blockbuster, The Passion of the Christ.

Great! Where should I stay?

There are several quirky hotels and B&Bs located in Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso, the two neighbourhoods that make up Matera's old town. There are also plenty of Airbnb options, too - a 2017 report by the University of Siena estimated more than 25% of Matera's housing stock was listed on the site.

How do I get there?

Matera doesn't have its own airport, so head to Bari and take either a bus or train from there. Flights to Bari are available from several London airports and, from August 2019, Manchester.

Anything else I should know?

If you're expecting to fill up on pasta and pizza in Matera then you might be disappointed because Matera is famous for its bread. Made from locally-produced 'hard wheat' that makes for an amazingly crispy crust, locals top their bread with roasted vegetables (think aubergine and courgette), pesto, cheese and cured meats. It's delicious!

And I'll need some travel insurance?

That's right. Before you set off for Matera make sure you get some travel insurance that fits you and your plans. At World First, we offer cost-effective travel insurance for Italy that'll give you everything you need to explore the sassi in confidence.