The 17 must-dos in Matera

sassi di Matera

About to take off for Italy’s mountainous Basilicata region? Here’s our list of must-sees in Matera!

Matera, the third oldest town in the world, has been occupied since the Palaeolithic era. Here, you have a rendezvous with history, as you explore the troglodyte houses dug into the mountainside. With its many rock churches, the town also boasts a collection of museums, each more fascinating than the last. Finally, a visit to Matera means enjoying the extraordinary Pugliese countryside nearby. Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Matera!

1. The Sassi

Les Sassi - visiter Matera

Photo credit: Shutterstock – ermess

Literally meaning « stones », the Sassi are the troglodyte dwellings that give Matera its charm. Separated by a rocky promontory in the heart of the old town, they are grouped into two districts: Sasso Barisano to the north and Sasso Caveoso to the south.

Long the scene of poor living in insalubrious conditions, they were considered a national disgrace in the early 50s. Families were displaced and the Sassi abandoned, before being restored to their former glory thanks to a major rehabilitation program. Today, they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stroll through the maze of alleyways to step back in time, and push open the door of theAntica Matera Casa Grotta to discover a reconstruction of life in troglodyte dwellings up to the 1950s. Sparkling with a thousand lights, the Sassi are an unforgettable sight at night!

2. The Duomo

Duomo de Matera

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Emily Marie Wilson

Another must-see in Matera is the Duomo, the city’s most important religious building. The Cathedral of Matera, as it’s also called, was built between 1230 and 1270 in a refined Romanesque style.

Inside, you’ll discover some interesting works, such as the statue of the Madonna della bruna, the town’s patron saint, and the medieval fresco of the Last Judgment.

3. La Chiesa del Purgatorio

La Chiesa del Purgatorio - visiter Matera

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Kirk Fisher

Baroque in style, the Church of Purgatory is, as its name suggests, dedicated to death and redemption. On the façade, you’ll notice sculptures in the shape of skeletons, as well as a large number of skulls on the front of the basilica.

Inside, you’ll discover numerous paintings, eight of which depict the Passion of Christ. An 18th-century organ, the statue of San Michele Angelo and frescoes add to the magic of the place.

4. Rock churches

L’église de San Pietro Caveoso

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Bibiana Castagna

It’s impossible to talk about things to do in Matera without mentioning its 150 rock churches! Unesco World Heritage sites, most of them carved out of the rock, their bare facades offer a striking contrast with the refinement of their interiors.

One of these, the church of San Pietro Caveoso, offers a fabulous view of Matera and its countryside from its forecourt. The rock church of the Madonna de Idris, Santa Barbara, San Giovanni Battista and the Madonna delle Virtu are also not to be missed.

5. Le Convicinio di Sant’Antonio

Le Convicinio di Sant’Antonio - visiter Matera

Photo credit: Wikimedia – Sailko

If you don’t have the time to wander around the town to tour the rock churches, concentrate on the Convicinio di Sant’Antonio. This group of 4 rock churches features prominently in this ranking of the best things to do in Matera.

Look up to admire Sant’Eligio’s Greek crosses in relief. Inside, contemplate the frescoes, still in excellent condition, depicting the faces of several saints.

6. Sant’Agostino Monastery

Le monastère di Sant’Agostino

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Cezary Wojtkowski

Dating from the end of the 16th century, the Sant’Agostino monastery earns its place in this ranking of the best things to visit in Matera. Recognized as an Italian national monument in 1988, it is a fine example of Baroque architecture. It comprises a convent and a church.

Destroyed by an earthquake in 1734, it has undergone a remarkable renovation. The façade features statues of Saint Augustine, Saint Paul and Saint Peter. Inside, the fresco of the Holy Trinity is well worth a look.

7. La Casa Noha

La Casa Noha

Photo credit: Facebook – La Casa Noha

Casa Noha ranks high on the list of monuments to visit in Matera. Nestled in a 16th-century palace, it boasts a tufa structure, cornices and carvings, and beautiful vaulted ceilings.

A staircase leads you inside, where a multimedia tour takes you on a detailed tour of the city’s history. A film designed by Giovanni Carrada is projected onto the walls, floors and ceilings of the rooms.

8. Cripta del Peccato Originale

La crypte du péché originel - visiter Matera

Photo credit: Facebook – The Crypt of Original Sin

Also worth a visit in Matera, the Crypt of Original Sin is an ancient place of worship from the Lombard era. It houses a superb collection of colorful frescoes, which has earned it UNESCO World Heritage status.

On the left wall, the frescoes of the Apostles, Virgin Queens and Archangels are hidden in three niches. To better understand the meaning of the other frescoes, treat yourself to a guided tour or take an audioguide in French!

9. Materasum Ipogeo

Le Materasum Ipogeo

Photo credit: Facebook – Le Materasum Ipogeo

Another must-see in Matera is the Materasum Ipogeo, a veritable city under the city. At a depth of 12 meters, a network of underground galleries stretches out over a surface area of around 1,200 m².

Over the years, it has been used for a variety of purposes, including as an attic, a cistern, a dwelling, an ice chamber, a crypt… An audioguide is highly recommended. Events such as art exhibitions and concerts are regularly scheduled.

10. La Casa grotta di Vico Solitario

La Casa grotta di Vico Solitario

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Lucamato

The Casa grotta di Vico Solitario is a must-see for travelers looking for something to do in Matera, and offers a better understanding of how cave dwellers lived in the 18th century.

Located in the Sasso Caveoso region, it still contains period furniture and tools. They give a glimpse of the harsh living conditions of the inhabitants. You can opt for an audioguide in French. At 3 euros, the visit is quick, as the dwelling comprises just two rooms.

11. Museo Laboratorio della Civilta Contadina

Le Museo Laboratorio della Civilta Contadina - visiter Matera

Photo credit: Facebook – Museo Laboratorio della Civilta Contadina

A must-see in Matera, the Museo Laboratorio della Civilta Contadina leaves no traveler indifferent. Founded by a private individual with a passion for the town’s history, it combines documentation on life in the caves with objects recovered from the Sassi before the Italian regime ordered families to leave.

12. MUSMA Museum

Le Musée MUSMA

Photo credit: Facebook – Le Musée MUSMA

Nestled in a palace dating back to 1600, the MUSMA museum is no less than the most important Italian museum dedicated to contemporary sculpture. A visit to Matera is a must, to discover a major collection. The program includes works by Duilio Cambellotti, Kengiro Azuma and Maria Lai.

13. Domenico Ridola National Archaeological Museum

Le musée archéologique national Domenico Ridola

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Mitzo

The cultural program continues with the Domenico Ridola National Archaeological Museum in Matera. The oldest museum in the region, it was founded in 1911.

In one of the 5 rooms, you’ll discover relics dating back to the Palaeolithic period, such as axes, spears and arrows. Other pieces in the collection, such as bronzes, armor and monumental vases, bear witness to the Roman era.

14. Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi

Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi - visiter Matera

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Francesco Bonino

Another museum to visit in Matera, the Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi, was built in the 17th century. Dedicated to medieval and modern art, it is divided into three sections.

The first, on sacred art, features objects and paintings from local churches. The second features over 300 paintings by the medieval Neapolitan school. The third includes works by Carlo Levi and a selection of 150 works by Luigi Guerricchio.

15. MOOM

visiter Matera : Matera Olive Oil Museum

Photo credit: Flickr – Mirko #quellodeiviaggi

For something different, why not visit MOOM, a museum dedicated to olive oil. Explaining the secrets behind the production process of this essential ingredient of Italian gastronomy, the tour ends with a tasting session.

16. Belvedere piazzetta Pascoli

visiter Matera : Belvédère piazzetta Pascoli

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Looking for something to do in Matera that will last a lifetime? The belvedere on the Piazzetta Pascoli is the place for you. Opposite Palazzo Lafranchi, take a stroll towards this viewpoint, which reveals a breathtaking panorama of the Sassi Caveoso.

17. Piazza Vittorio Veneto

visiter Matera : La Piazza Vittorio Veneto - visiter Matera

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Aliaksandr Antanovich

To conclude your visit to Matera, take the time to stroll around Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Located near the lively Sassi, it’s a must for a taste of the Italian dolce vita.

Order a Spritz or Panzerotto from a bar or restaurant terrace, and get to know the locals! Before you leave, take a look at the fountains and the war memorial.

What to do near Matera

Parco della Murgia Materana

visiter Matera : Le belvédère de Murgia Timone

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Covering an area of over 8,000 hectares, this is one of Matera’s must-visit sites. A must-do for hikers and mountain bikers, it offers a multitude of opportunities for fresh air between visits to troglodyte dwellings and rock churches.

Our tip: reach the Murgia Timone belvedere for a spectacular view of the city.

The Apulian canyon

Le canyon des Pouilles - visiter Matera

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Called gravina in Italian, this canyon runs through several villages in Puglia, a region very close to Basilicata. It takes 1h10 by car to reach Bari. For the best views of the canyon, stop off at Catallaneta and Massafra.

Castel Del Monte

visiter Matera : Le Castel Del Monte

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Ragemax

The ultimate spot to visit in Matera and the surrounding area is Castel del Monte. Built in 1240 by Emperor Frederick II, this castle is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

It was the inspiration for Umberto Ecco’s 1986 novel The Name of the Rose, and has been used as a backdrop for scenes in the films Tale of Tales and Wonder Woman.

How to get to Matera

Matera has no airport on its territory. The nearest one is in Bari, one of Puglia’s main cities. Several airlines, including Air France and Alitalia, operate regular flights to Bari, either direct or with connections to Milan or Rome.

Another option to benefit from lower fares and travel on low-cost airlines like Easy Jet: Naples airport. Don’t forget to use a flight comparison service such as Ulysses to find a cheap flight to Matera!

Getting around Matera

To get around Matera, you can rent a car at the airport. Please note that traffic restrictions in the larger towns, or the crowds in the summer months, can make this means of transport somewhat tedious.

At the same time, Matera is served by numerous bus companies. In the historic center, you’ll have no choice but to get around on foot or by bike: it’s pedestrianized.

Where to stay in Matera?

Whether in the Sassi, in the historic center (Civita and Piano districts) or in Rione Piccialnello, there’s no shortage of options for accommodation in Matera.

Whether you’re looking for cheap accommodation, a guesthouse or a luxury room, consider using a hotel comparator! For a house or apartment in Matera, check out the offers onAirbnb. You’re bound to find accommodation to suit your needs and budget!

Map of hotels and accommodation – Basilicata