A couple of weekends ago my mum was needing a break form the frenetic daily life so she indulged into a two days guided tour in Puglia and Basilicata that took her to see the majestic castel del Monte and the world famous “sassi di Matera”. Two of her must see spots that were still on top of her list, places she had been dreaming on visiting for sometime but never made a real effort to do it.

Here are some facts.

Castel del Monte:

Unesco world Heritage site since 1996, the castle was built by Emperor Frederick the 2nd in 1240 as a hunting residence and was considered a stupor mundi of the times. Its spectacular position on top of one of the highest hills of the Western Murgia gives an idea of the grandeur of the Emperor who commissioned it. The spectacular building has an octagonal floor plan with a tower at each corner. Inside there are sixteen halls decorated with elements in classical, gothic and Arab styles. The stunning mosaic decorations are still visible on the floor. The castle is the most visited monument in the Apulia region due to its extremely characteristic architectural and decorative elements and breathtaking position and is used for numerous exhibits, conferences, concerts and cultural events.

Between a Castle and a generous lunch she kept calling me for “sharing the moments” and she was successful. She really made me feel like I was there with her and those people on the coach, enjoying my holiday in Italy…

Back on the coach they travelled to Matera, Basilicata region, to see the “sassi”…

What are the sassi?

The Sassi district is the ancient heart of the city of Matera.
The Sassi  surround the Civita and constitute a city unto itself, completely carved out of the face of the calcareous rock -what is known as tufa stone. The Sassi district is a system made of dwellings carved out of the steep slopes of a deep valley with surprising and unusual features called the ‘Gravina’.
Elegant and multi-faceted buildings are interspersed with underground mazes and cave labyrinths, forming one single stunning landscape.
Over the course of the centuries, the city has changed its shape over and over again in an ongoing dialogue between rock and architecture, canyon and bell-tower, flowing into a cityscape of incomparable beauty and distinction.
The Sassi were once the very heart of peasant life and culture. Nowadays the district has been renovated and has regained new dignity and new life, offering breathtaking views, particularly at night when the glow of the small lights of homes, the craft shops and restaurants turn the Sassi into a living nativity scene.
UNESCO declared the Sassi to be a World Heritage Site in 1993. It beckons to visitors, a magnificent, unique view steeped in the past.

Notable and surely worth a visit are: cave dwellings and cave churches.

The cave dwellings can be distinguished in: Casalnuovo and Vico Solitario.


The casa grotta is a typical Sassi dwelling, dug into the rock. It is an excellente example which allows one to learn about and understand the history and culture of the Materan peasant population, thousand of years old. It is also an excellente didactic instruments for students. La casagrotta of Casalnuovo is composed of 4 environments, dug out on three levels, with a stall and cellar connected. Next to the casagrotta there is a “sound ceramics” work-shop, where one can admire the terracotta whislte display, entirely made by hand and typical of the area. There is also an audio explanation in English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese.

Vico Solitario:

If you want to learn about and understand the culture of the inhabitants of the ancient Sassi district, please visit the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, located in the Caveoso districtnear the San Pietro Caveoso Church. A typical cave dwelling with ancient tools and artefacts which offers visitors a precise idea of how family life was organized in the Sassi districts.

Cave Churches:

The Sassi district is divided into two parts, the Sasso Caveoso and the Sasso Barisano. There are countless churches, many of which are found inside the urban Sassi district. Each church has its own distinctive features, ranging from the majesty of San Pietro Barisano, often used for jazz concerts, to the variety and rich detail of the iconography of Santa Lucia alle Malve and are for the most part dug out of the soft tufa stone.

Among the most famous churches: Convicino di Sant’Antonio, Monterrone, santa Maria de Idris, San Giovanni, Santa Maria de Armenis, Santa Barbara.
One must-see sight is the cave church complex of the Madonna delle Virtù and San Nicola dei Greci. Each summer, this stunning complex is the site of an international sculpure exhibition.

Grazie mamma for sharing your trip with me. And most of all, grazie for always making me the centre of your life. Ti voglio bene!


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