Our longest drive of the holiday, just under 300 kms, was today: From the coast through mountain passes and snaking along valley floors, merging onto the autostrada north, then veering east on the E847. For all the driving on all the continents over all the years I don’t think we’ve ever driven over so many bridges, viaducts and tunnels in a single day before. Some, like the Tito Viaduct (pictured, lifted from the Net) were nearly 400 feet high and 300 feet long. There was a lot of engineering finesse (but also, considering the bridge collapse in Genoa, some anxiety).
Eventually we turned off onto a rural route where the temperature topped 35 and the green valleys, spotted forest, orchards and olive groves, gave way to wheat fields and scrub. The tunnels (gallerias) were not always lit (non illuminati). As for speed, we’ve been unable to ascertain whether the speed limit is the minimum km to travel or a suggestion like a special on the lunch menu.
Recognize that scene (from any movie trying to evoke a certain period)? You’ve probably been to Matera: Did you see The Passion of the Christ? Or pretty much any movie with Christ in the title? Did you see Wonder Woman? Did you see Quantum of Solace? If it has to look old, Byzantine old, they come to Matera. Matera is “Nazarene-y.”
You can Wiki the whole story but in a nutshell, people lived in caves here for millennia. By the mid-20th century it was a “national disgrace” for the state; families of a dozen or more were living with livestock, in caves, without running water, electricity or sewage. From the early 50s to late 60s over 15,000 people (of what was originally a population over 30,000) were “rehoused” in neighbouring towns. The “sassi” eventually became “rehabilitated” and the old neighbourhoods are now a Unesco heritage site; in fact in 2019 Matera is the European capital of culture. So, you know, that’s when culture and Disney clash.
Given the hoopla (even the most recent Bond is shooting some scenes here) the prices have skyrocketed. We scored an Air BnB out of our budget but situated in the “sasso barisano” or part of the old city. I won’t get into the hassle of that, how you can’t drive in the sassi and the one way system to avoid getting in, or the hassle of actually arriving, but suffice to say it was a mixture of miscommunication, misunderstanding, translation error and Lady Penelope telling us we were somewhere we were not.
After we got settled off or a walking tour. Despite the historical poverty, the place is of course riddled with churches. We popped into the small, unassuming San Giovanni, which was lovely in its simplicity.
Then we passed by the larger, more imposing San Francesco D’Assisi which glowed in the afternoon light.
Further down into the valley, in the sasso caveoso, or neighbourhood of caves, we visited a reconstructed cave which would have housed a family of 10. You can see there was a stable by the bed (!), in the back room a hutch for hens, even a spot to store manure, a clay pot for a toilet, and a single bed for adults, all the adults; babies would have been in the crib at the foot of the bed, smaller children in drawers. Water would have been captured in a cistern and pooled in a “lower” cave.
For dinner we went to a NYT recommended place not far from the rental. The burrata was out of this world, but in fact the meal was excellent start to finish. Here are some shots of the view from our table, start of meal, end of meal. (Not shown: The swallow poop that landed on the place mats… Good luck the waiter said. No discount on bill.)
This is, seriously, the views from our rental. The bedroom looks across at a church, San Agostino but you can also see the old city.
And this is the same view at night.
The living room looks across at the old town. This view was worth the extra.
This is the view at night, a collage looking back where we had dinner, and the old town in a long shot.