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We had full day planned today – a return to the other side of the gorge to view it in the morning sun (and luckily the sun obliged), followed by an Ape (ar-pay) tour with one very handsome Paolo, and a two hour walking tour of the Sassi Caveoso in the late afternoon.

After breakfast we set off for the gorge and were please we did, as it looked spectacular:

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The Sassi Caveoso from the other side of the gorge

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A photo bomber

Returning to the villa, we were picked up by Paolo in the cute Ape – it was a bit of a crush and Paolo’s English was basic but we achieved what we set out to do – getting more of an overview and seeing some of the Sassi Barisano on the other side of the Cathedral.

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Best pic I could get of the rather handsome Italian driver….

The ride down to town over bumpy roads and cobbles was an experience in itself – an Ape ride is not to be missed, but soon were in the glowing stone environment of the Sassi (which means stones). I confess to not being able to identify correctly everything in these photos due to Paolo’s strong accent, and being seated in the back seat it was very hard to hear him … but come along for a pictorial ride:

After taking morning tea in a pavement cafe, and buying ourselves a takeaway lunch we walked back to the villa to relax by the pool – lovely in the sun, but the pool was rather cold!

After a refreshing swim and an afternoon siesta we went back to town to meet our guide Silvio – he was excellent – our two hour walking tour with just one other couple was so interesting as he was extremely well-versed and passionate about the Sassi Caveoso. He gave us a enlightening history lesson before embarking on the walking tour including the fact that Matera was the first inhabited European city, and third in the world after Aleppo and Jericho. In 1952, the Italian Government ordered the evacuation of the caves, due to the poor conditions and sanitation which caused severe illness and death – this was viewed as a national shame.   Many of the over 15,000 inhabitants were reluctant to leave but alternative accommodation was provided. Impetus to renew the Sassi began in the 80s and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.  Today approximately 3,000 people live there – small hotels have begun to pop up, converting the caves to luxury rooms.

Our walk started from Domenica Ridola and moved on down in the the Sassi which by now was in shade so it was very comfortable . Again the photos will do the talking….

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Silvio giving us a history lesson

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Sassi Caveoso in the shade

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Light divides the Sassi

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The government closed off cave entries after inhabitants were forced to move from them in 1952

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Looking down to the Church of San Pietro Barisano

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Capers grow wild from the putty coloured rocks

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A Rupestrian church

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The rocky environment

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Shade and light in the Sassi

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Church steeples in a line…..

One of the most telling parts of the tour entering a cave which had previously been inhabited, complete with the contents – the further we progressed through the cave and its various levels, the colder it became and it is impossible to imagine what the conditions would have been like with adults, children and livestock housed together:

When the tour concluded, Silvio took us to a bar/cellar, where we were invited to taste local products prepared for us to enjoy  – a selection of delicious pastes spread on small pieces of bread.  Having been treated to a wonderful history lesson in the lanes where The Passion of the Christ was filmed, we decided to return to Van Gogh’s for a final meal in the most amazing and unforgettable town.

Next post: Tropea