Matera is a town and a province in the region of Basilicata, in southern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Matera.
Apart from an economy which has traditionally been based on agriculture, in the late 1990s the major economic base of Matera, and of surrounding cities, is the production of upholstered furniture.
The town lies athwart a small canyon, which has been eroded in the course of years by a small stream, the Gravina.
Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the "Sassi di Matera" (meaning "stones of Matera"). The Sassi originate from a prehistoric (troglodyte) settlement, and are suspected to be some of the first human settlements in Italy.
The Sassi are houses dug into the tuff rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia. Many of these "houses" are really only caverns, and the streets in some parts of the Sassi often are located on the rooftops of other houses. The ancient town grew in height on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream. The ravine is known locally as "la Gravina".
In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. However, people continued to live in the Sassi, and according to the English Fodor's guide:
Matera is the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago.
Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since these houses were, and in most areas still are, mostly unlivable. Current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and has promoted the re-generation of the Sassi with the aid of the European Union, the government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels.
The church of Sant'Agostino.
One of the benefits of the ancient city, is that there is a great similarity in the look of the Sassi with that of ancient sites in and around Jerusalem. This has caught the eye of film directors and movie studios. ( source Wikipedia )
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