287: Matera

 287 – Monday 1st February 2016:  Cave Dwellings – A Hidden Gem

Alarm clocks did their job and up and at ’em – revellie was military style at 0700 hrs – Sgt Major Clune (wo)manning the parade square! – in time to see the sunrise.  And we even had time for a short run – thankfully without 20 kg back packs and rifles – before brekkie.

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Our first destination was a Fiat garage in Matera (to investigate/remedy the engine issue) – skilfully navigated by by Marge and Bread – whoops Marge and Brad!  On arrival at the GPS (no acronyms ? – just wait…)  Right on the coordinates – J driving – K anxiously could not see the Fiat garage – enquired of three passing chaps – in unison and in Italian, they chorussed to her – “it’s behind you” !!! In this case, GPS must be Great Positioning Sense !

After a wait – and due consideration by very polite staff – they informed us that it was not possible to do diagnostic checks on a ‘commercial vehicle’ at their location – but a phone number was provided and we called – and called – could not get through – maybe something to do with our phones…..K’s sister Clare assisted from UK – but we were getting nowhere.  Unbeknown to us – while we were trying to communicate with various numbers, young Chardonnay  (she is only four) obviously got pissed off waiting – and cured the problem herself !  No sign of the engine malfunction light…..

Huge relief – a pay parking area found – huge – ticket bought and displayed. Nice parking attendant then told us “non parceggio camper qui” !  Back on the road – and some circular driving – motorhome parking two blocks away – luckily the same ticket worked.

We perambulated (?) on to the old town – beautiful Piazza and fountain – with this amazing water system – see photo. But – a little history…. 15,000 people lived in cave dwellings in Sassi (Matera) for hundreds of years right up until 1950s !  Only in 1956, did the City authorities move them to new housing – the move was completed in 1968.  But their legacy remains – and is one of the most compelling sights we have seen in Italy. There was poverty – but close families (all living and sleeping in one room) – large families too – but the infant mortality rate was 50%+.  Beggars requested not money, but quinine to give to their children to stave off malaria.   It was Mel Gibson’s location choice for his film, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ as few places depict such basic human existence.

The photos speak for themselves – it is quite unique indeed.

Back to Marina di Piscci – and a quiet evening – only 8 vans tonight so far…..   

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Today’s Tour Guide masters the map and walking routes … well worth the EUR1.50 … for the map.  The guide received NO tips!

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 Unfortunately closed …. amazing that it is so water tight that it still contained water in 1991 when it was explored.

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Purgatory Church … not exactly welcoming doors!

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Dwellings seriously piled on top of each other.  Apparently a lot that clung to the ledges have been pulled down.

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An artist’s impression.

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Many of the original dwellings had water supplies, tanks in the habitation and holding tanks below.  There were no natural springs so they collected rain water.

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 There were quite a number that we could just wander into.  Some were being ‘done up’; mostly to be used as shops or small museums.

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A vast vast area

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One of the small museums, but at EUR2 each very worth it. The dwelling was described over a tannoy – in English (we were the only visitors).  All the animals, adults and children in essentially one room.  Part of this museum also had a snow cavern – snow was packed between straw to form ice and then sold.  Another chamber was a meeting cave, which was too open to be used as a dwelling … important as there were few places (due to lack of space) where people could meet up and chat.

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The ‘posher’ part of the Sassi, where proper houses are built into the rock.

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Dry Monday … lovely lunch washed down with … water!

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After a superb anti-pasti (8 dishes for EUR12), which we shared, this was K’s ravioli with porchini in a squash sauce with pistachio sprinkles.

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