As the capital of the province of Matera, its original settlement lies in two canyons carved by the Gravina River. This area, the Sassi di Matera, is a complex of cave dwellings carved into the ancient river canyon, often cited as “one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.” Over the course of its history, Matera has been occupied by Greeks, Romans, Longobards, Byzantines, Saracens, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, and Bourbons.
By the late 1800s, Matera’s cave dwellings became noted for intractable poverty, poor sanitation, meager working conditions, and rampant disease. Evacuated in 1952, the population was relocated to modern housing, and the Sassi (Italian for “stones”) lay abandoned until the 1980s. Renewed vision and investment led to the cave dwellings becoming a noted historic tourism destination, with hotels, small museums and restaurants — and a vibrant arts community