very soft stones called Tufa.
There have been inhabitants in Matera since prehistoric times. Many people believe it is the oldest human settlement in Italy. It is said it has a resemblance to Jerusalem, which many film directors, including Mel Gibson, have taken note of. We had a tour with a very knowledgeable guide who was born in the town but went to University of Bari for his degree.
The view of Matera at night.
See the little caves lined up on the hill? Originally people lived in there, but they moved across the ravine and abandoned these caves. Can you guess why, our guest wanted to know? We guessed water, vegetation, defense...all wrong...this side was too shady and the caves were gloomy. They moved across the way because the caves got more sun and they were not so moist.
People lived in these caves until after the Second World War when the Italian government made the people move. If you look past the purple striped bed spread you seen our friend Ben looking into the cave. They rolled win barrels down there to store them. The beds were raised high so that the chickens could stay safe under the bed at night and eggs would be easy to find. I can only imagine the smell.
They had to move because they were dying off from malaria because of the unsanitary conditions. Carlo Levi wrote about the cave people in a book called Christ Stopped at Eboli. It is a fascinating read if you are interested in this area.
Matera is in a competition to the the EU Cultural Capital for 2019. They are very enthusiastic about it and trying to reclaim the caves to get the tourists to come. I doubt they will win, but it is definitely worth a stop, even a trip out of your way to visit this place from long ago.