Matera’s Sassi are the best surviving and most complete examples of rock-cut settlement in the Mediterranean region. They have been developed in close harmony with the natural environments. Nature has provided this location with a belt of soft tufa,with two natural depressions. The caves here have been used since prehistoric times. Population pressure drove people out of the city of Matera into the Sassi. From the 17th century on, this area was left to the poor. At first they lived in the bare caves, later these developed into house-like structures.
Matera is said to be one of the world’s oldest towns. The simple natural grottoes that dotted the gorge were adapted to become homes. In time, an ingenious system of canals regulated the flow of water and sewage, and small hanging gardens lent splashes of color. The prosperous town become the capital of Basilicata in 1663, a position it held until 1806 when the power moved to Potenza.
The Sassi of Matera are one of the major tourist attractions of southern Italy, and much has been inhabited since the Stone Age, and you can definitely feel the history of the place when you stand above the huge canyon and see the houses and churches hewn into the rock.
No wonder Mel Gibson came here to film The Passion of the Christ.