Follow this itinerary to discover what to see in Matera in two days! Here is a guide to experiencing a weekend in Matera, including the most beautiful and exciting attractions.
Matera is located on a plateau in eastern Basilicata, a small region of southern Italy rich in landscapes, art, culture, archeology and good food. The small town is a regular stop for tourists from all over the world who want to spend a weekend in Matera to see the famous “Sassi”, the ancient cave dwellings declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, together with the Park of the Rupestrian Churches.
The Sassi are a complex of dwellings carved into the limestone rock dating back to the prehistoric age, the old and suggestive neighborhoods of the city.
Giovanni Pascoli and Carlo Levi, two great names in Italian literature of the 20th century have been attracted to Matera over the centuries. And even many Italian and foreign directors have chosen this location for their films. The list would be too long considering that it starts from the early 1950s and goes up to the present day.
Just to mention a few titles, “Christ Stopped at Eboli” (Francesco Rosi); “The Man of Stars” (Giuseppe Tornatore); “The Passion of Christ” (Mel Gibson); “Ben Hur” (Timur Bekmanbetov); the fiction “Imma Tataranni”, but also the most iconic “Wonder Woman” and “007”.
The reason for so much interest is to be found in the feelings that Matera arouses, it seems as if you are suspended in time, enchanted by unique and natural landscapes such as the Parco della Murgia Materana, the architecture of historical buildings, churches and cave dwellings, which over time have been transformed into restaurants and luxury hotels.
Walking around Matera is a very special experience, because of the whole context of this town built in stone. It is made up of the two districts Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso, once the center of peasant civilization, divided by the hill of the Civita, the oldest settlement and medieval nucleus which, together with the Piano, the flatter area, forms the historic center of Matera.
The “great beauty” here takes shape from a multifaceted nature, with different historical, artistic and cultural influences, from the earliest Paleolithic through Magna Graecia, the Middle Ages and the Baroque. A melting pot of styles that make it what it is today.
If you are planning a weekend in Matera, and you don’t want to waste time, follow this guide to stop at the most important places. You will discover what to see in Matera in two days to fully enjoy its history, art, nature and food and wine specialties. 👇
Weekend in Matera: A Guide to Visiting the City in 2 days
With this guide, you can focus on the monuments and places of interest in and around the historic center of Matera, including archaeological sites, trekking and hiking trails. If you’re wondering if two days are enough, the answer is yes. Two days can be enough to breathe in the atmosphere of Matera’s nooks and crannies that wind through its alleyways against the backdrop of its revolutionary architecture.
The best time to visit Matera, in our opinion, is in Autumn. The town is less crowded at this time, and the mild climate is perfect for exploring.
Since your visit will take place over the weekend, it’s advisable to stay in a convenient neighborhood, from which you can easily reach all the points of interest on foot.
Also, keep in mind that traffic is prohibited or restricted in many neighborhoods. This means that you’ll need to get around on foot or by using the shuttle service to the Sassi.
To make your travels easier, a good option for your weekend in Matera is to stay in Sasso Barisano or even Piano. In Sasso Barisano, you can find houses carved into the rock, as well as more modern dwellings, hotels, and restaurants. For car parking, you can ask your accommodation facility to authorize you to drive in for luggage unloading and, if necessary, parking in the hotel garage.
Alternatively, there are on-street parking spots (on Via Lucana and side streets) in the streets adjacent to the historic center. These spots are metered and charged on weekdays (free on Sundays). You can also use covered municipal and private pay parking garages. Municipal parking garages are located in Via Vena, Via Saragat, and Piazza Cesare Firrao. Private parking garages are located in Via XX Settembre and Via Cappelluti.
Let us begin our tour of Matera.
1. Sasso Caveoso and Piazza San Pietro Caveoso
Sasso Caveoso is the oldest part of the Sassi in Matera with its caves and houses carved into the tuff overlooking the Gravina valley. The district lies to the south and takes its name from the town of Montescaglioso, known in the Middle Ages as Mons Caveosus.
The most important point of the district is the large Piazza San Pietro Caveoso, where the church of the same name is located and where you can look out over one of perhaps the most characteristic views in Italy, and certainly one of the least: over the Gravina Canyon.
In this district, there are rupestrian churches such as the Church of Madonna de Idris, museum houses, typical handicraft shops and art workshops where you can browse among Matera’s most iconic objects.
In the summer months, the square becomes a stage for musical and theatrical events with refreshment stands where you can spend cool evenings drinking a good glass of wine to accompany Matera’s specialities.
But the most interesting gem of the district is the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, an old house furnished with authentic tools and furniture, as it was before the eviction following the law for the redevelopment of the Sassi ordered by Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi in 1952.
Walking along Via Madonna delle Virtù and skirting the Gravina di Matera, we reach the other district, Sasso Barisano.
2. Sasso Barisano with the Church of San Pietro Barisano and the Sassi in miniature
What to see in Matera in two days, if not this district where past and present coexist in a perfect union?
The Sasso Barisano district, named after the city of Bari, is located in the northern part of Matera’s historic centre, once home to artisans. Over the years, its urban and architectural layout has been almost completely renovated.
Today, in addition to the houses still carved into the rock, it houses more modern dwellings, hotels, restaurants and various attractions, such as the reconstruction of the Sassi in miniature, the Museum of Rural Civilisation and the Church of San Pietro Barisano.
The Museo Laboratorio della Civiltà Contadina is an ethno-anthropological museum, the largest of its kind in southern Italy. It is located in Via San Giovanni Vecchio 60 and houses all the trades of the past, craft activities, reconstructed environments of domestic life, typical agricultural objects and tools, textiles, etc.
While Sassi in Miniatura is a reconstruction of the Sassi, designed and built by Eustachio Rizzi, a structure measuring 12 square metres and weighing 35 quintals that reproduces the ancient districts of the past.
3. The Piano and the Civita
The Piano and the Civita form the historic centre of Matera.
Il Piano is so called because it is located on a plateau above the Sassi. This part of Matera develops along a flat route, an axis called the “eighteenth-century axis of the city”, since the conformation of the district dates back to the late 1600s.
Between the streets and squares, a path winds its way through Matera’s most beautiful Baroque churches and historic palazzi, as well as cafés and souvenir shops.
- Palazzo Lanfranchi (home of the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata) with Kengiro Azuma’s sculpture “La Goccia” in front of it
- Casa Noha (the home of Fai – Fondo Ambiente Italiano)
- Ortega House
- Madonna del Carmine Church, a 17th century building that now hosts exhibitions and events
- Church of Santa Chiara (‘600)
- Chiesa del Purgatorio Nuovo with its late Baroque façade (18th century)
- Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the heart of the historical centre and the hypogea located under the square (e.g. the Palombaro Lungo).
From Via del Corso, the most important street in the historic centre, several side streets branch off leading to the Sassi and the oldest quarter of Matera, the Civita. The latter is the highest point of the historical centre where the Cathedral and the Archbishop’s Palace are located; the Castelvecchio Longobardo, the historical noble palaces, Palazzo Gattini, Palazzo Venusio, Palazzo Malvinni Malvezzi.
The old Rione Civita covers the rocky surface between the Sasso Caveoso and the Barisano. This is where the first embryo of social and urban life in the Sassi took shape. The first settlements, in fact, were found in the very area where the Cathedral is located. From here you can reach the Sasso Barisano on one side and the Sasso Caveoso on the other.
4. Matera Cathedral
From Piazza del Sedile, walking down Via Duomo, one arrives at Matera Cathedral (13th century) in Apulian Romanesque style, flanked by a majestic bell tower, located at the highest point of the city.
Outside, on the façade, you can see symbolic and floral elements with the statue of the Madonna della Bruna, patron saint of the city; while in the side niches, Saints Peter and Paul. Inside, on the other hand, there are altars, valuable decorations and frescoes, including “The Last Judgement”, dating back to the Middle Ages, and the Madonna della Bruna.
5. Casa Cava, the theatre carved into the rock
Embedded in the rock, in the Barisano district, on Via S. Pietro Barisano, is the Casa Cava, a cavity dug into the rock that used to be a typical Matera house in the past, while today it houses a theatre. Performances, art exhibitions, concerts and food and wine events are held inside this hypogeum.
The Casa Cava can be visited every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The full-price ticket is €3; €1.50 for school groups; €2 if with an authorised guide; €2 for FAI members. Free admission for children under 14; disabled persons; teachers with Miur form.
6. Rock Churches
The rock churches, dating from the early Middle Ages to the 19th century, are also a must-see during a weekend in Matera.
Founded as religious structures by Benedictine and Carthusian monks, over time they were transformed into dwellings. There are 155 of them between the Sassi and the Murgia.
Among the most interesting to visit:
Madonna delle Virtù and San Nicola dei Greci rock complex in Romanesque style; today it hosts contemporary sculpture exhibitions.
Rock Church Sanctuary of Madonna dell’Idris and San Giovanni Monterrone (‘300-‘400) a complex comprising two rooms, the Church of the Madonna dell’Idris and the older crypt dedicated to San Giovanni in Monterrone, with frescoes dating from the 12th to the 17th century. From here, it is possible to admire a beautiful panorama of the Murgia plateau.
In the Sasso Caveoso, in the Malve district, there is the Complex of Santa Lucia, site of the first female monastic settlement of the Benedictine Order (9th century). On the façade you can see three chalices carved with the eyes of the Saint, patron saint of sight. Inside are frescoes from the 13th century. Of particular note is the Madonna del Latte.
Outside the town, overlooking the Gravina, there is the Crypt of Original Sin, called the Sistine Chapel of rock art.
San Pietro Barisano is the largest cave church (12th century), which has been modified several times; its present form, including the built facade, dates back to the 18th century. Inside, it houses statues, altars, frescoes and valuable furnishings, the bell casting pit and dungeons.
In the Murgia Materana Park:
- Christ at Gravinella
- Church of the Madonna delle Vergini
- Church of the Madonna of Monte Verde
- San Nicola all’Ofra
- Santa Maria della Palomba
The rock churches within the park are also an opportunity for hiking. For example, the Madonna delle Vergini can be reached from Porta Pistola, through the Gravina valley.
7. Palombaro Lungo, the Cathedral of Water
Beneath Piazza Vittorio Veneto there is this underground cistern (16th century), an example of hydraulic engineering used to collect rain and spring water, whose rocky walls are covered with a special terracotta-based waterproof plaster.
The Palombaro Lungo can be visited every day from 9.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. (except on public holidays).
Tickets cost €3.00 for adults; €1.50 for school groups (a group of at least 15 people). Free admission for minors.
8. Museums of Matera
At Sasso Caveoso, in the Palazzo Pomarici or Palazzo delle Cento Stanze, there is the Musma, the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture, the only one in the world excavated in caves.
Those who love the genre can appreciate a collection that traces the history of Italian and international sculpture from 1800 to 2000. The museum spaces extend over the seven hypogea on the lower floor, on an original nucleus of caves excavated in the tuff, in the 13th century, the site of a Dominican convent.
Visiting Times and Costs:
Monday to Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (ticket office closes at 5.15 p.m.). Full price ticket: 7 euros. Reduced price: 4 euros. Guided tour: 40 euros
Near the Cathedral, in the Civita district, there is Casa Noha, an ancient house divided into five rooms where, through period films, the history of Matera is narrated, from prehistory to the Reformation of the Sassi.
The full-price ticket for admission to Casa Noha costs 6 euro. Reduced, 2 euro (6 to 18 years); 4 euro for students up to 25 years.
The National Museum of Matera in Via Domenico Ridola 24, in the historic centre, includes:
- the Domenico Ridola National Archaeological Museum, with archaeological finds from prehistoric times to Greco-Roman art
- the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata on the first floor of Palazzo Lanfranchi.
The Museum can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (last admission: 7 p.m.)
- Ridola Museum: 5.00 euro
- Headquarters Palazzo Lanfranchi: 5,00 euro
- Students (for each venue): 2,00 euro
- Minors: Free
- Children (18 to 25 years): 2.00 euro
- Free entrance for military personnel, police forces, journalists, academics.
9. The Belvederes of Matera
During a weekend in Matera, we also recommend a tour of the famous Belvederes that open up magnificent views of the Sassi and the Gravina.
We have already mentioned the Belvedere of Santa Maria dell’Idris, the rock church, but there are other viewpoints, among them:
- Piazza Giovanni Pascoli
- Piazza Vittorio Veneto with a belvedere over Sasso Barisano
- Belvedere Santa Lucia
- Belvedere di Civita
- Belvedere of Murgia Timone
- Belvedere di Pier Luigi Nervi
- Belvedere – Raffaele Giura Longo (Via Duomo, 7)
- Via Muro, Via San Giacomo
10. Murgia Materana Park
One of the most beautiful rocky landscapes in Italy… the Parco Regionale Archeologico Storico Naturale delle Chiese Rupestri del Materano (Regional Archaeological, Historical and Natural Park of the Rock Churches of the Murgia Materana) conceals a natural and historical treasure of great value.
Here it is ideal for walking, trekking and hiking, discovering local fauna and vegetation, but also the famous and ancient rock-hewn Churches of the Materano, which we have mentioned before.
A wonder of nature, the Gravina di Matera is a gigantic canyon stretching for 20 kilometers across the territory until it reaches Montescaglioso. At the bottom of this deep valley, the Gravina torrent flows, running alongside the Sassi di Matera until it flows into the Bradano river.
What to do in Matera
We have talked about what to see in Matera for two days, now let’s take a look at some ideas of what to do during your stay. 👇
1. Tour of the most scenic spots
A tour with lots of memorable shots in the main panoramic places we described in the section on Belvederes. And between one “vision” and another, an aperitif is ideal to start the evening…
2. Shopping for local handicrafts
It’s a bit of a ritual to entrust the memory of a vacation to simple, unconventional objects that come from the hands of a popular culture and energy. We feel them close, they bring us to the essence, they give us comfort in their “naivety”.
From Matera, you can bring back among others small sculptures created by hand from the famous calcarenitic rock, the Matera tuff; while from terracotta, local craftsmen shape the “cuccù” lucky charms, the cock-shaped whistles typical of the Murgia Materana. There are various types of them, but they always remain the symbol of Matera.
3. Tours, excursions, sports activities
In addition to visiting the Sassi, the most exciting hiking activities in the Parco della Murgia Materana include the various trails around the plateau and in the Gravina Canyon. Suitable clothing, including hiking boots, is recommended for these hikes.
- The trails in the Parco della Murgia Materana range from easy to challenging.
- It is important to be prepared for all types of weather conditions, as the weather in the region can change quickly.
- Hikers should also bring plenty of water and snacks, as there are few facilities along the trails.
The most interesting points:
- the Tibetan bridge leading to the Murgia Timone* viewpoint
- on the Murgia Timone plateau, the hikes along the Belvedere path and the Neolithic Villages
- the area between the Sassi and Montescaglioso
- Plateau of Murgecchia
- Park of the Monks
- Murgia Venusio
- Murgia of Sant’Eustachio
- “La Palomba” Sculpture Park – created on the initiative of the artist Antonio Paradiso, who has created a permanent art exhibition in a tuff quarry (inside the Parco Archeologico Storico Naturale delle Chiese Rupestri, on the S.S. 7 Appia state road in the ‘La Palomba’ locality).
*Note: Make sure the Tibetan Bridge is open for transit.
4. Tastings and Matera Cooking Classes with local chefs
The palate is like the heart: it doesn’t listen to reason. When it falls in love, it follows the trail of hormones and emotions.
This is also true in Matera. The air is filled with the smell of typical Matera dishes, such as cialledda, a bread and tomato salad that is often cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Tastings in Matera are one of the most popular and sought-after activities. The tours take you inside the cellars dug into the rock, along the tasting routes of true Matera specialities, from wines to liqueurs, cheeses, baked goods, and sweets. But to really experience the food of Matera, you should take a cooking class with a local chef. This is one of the most creative experiences you can have, as you learn to recover traditional recipes and prepare them with local secrets.
Local food and wine
The Matera table is one of the most popular attractions for visitors and tourists from all over the world who want to taste Matera’s most famous dishes and products:
- Matera bread IGP: this bread is made with remilled durum wheat semolina and is used to make “fedda rossa”, a type of bruschetta.
- Durum wheat pasta: this pasta is made with durum wheat flour and is often served with tomato sauce or meat sauce.
- “Peperone crusco”: this pepper is a type of chili pepper that is roasted and then dried. It is often used in salads or as a condiment.
- Cialledda materana: this is a bread and tomato salad that is often served with onions and oregano.
- Cheeses: Matera is known for its cheeses, such as pecorino and caciocavallo.
- Wines: Matera produces a variety of wines, including the Matera DOC.
Some other dishes that you should not miss:
- Crapiata: this is a soup made with pulses and cereals, such as wheat, broad beans, chickpeas, and lentils.
- Pignata, a stew made with mutton or lamb.
- Gnummiredd: these are lamb entrails rolls that are a traditional dish from Matera.
- Sporcamuss, a sweet pastry that is made with almonds, honey, and spices.
- Strazzate: these are thin sheets of dough that are fried and then topped with honey and spices.
How to get to Matera
Matera can be reached by various means.
By plane, the nearest airport is Bari “Karol Wojtyla” (60 km). From the airport, you can reach Matera
- by shuttle bus service of the various companies (Miccolis; Cotrab; Grassani & Garofalo)
- by train, with the Ferrovie Nord Barese railways to Bari Centrale station. From here, arriving at the F.A.L. (Ferrovie Appulo Lucane) station, you can take several trains to Matera Centrale station (journey time, about 80 minutes).
About 154 km away is Brindisi airport, from where you can reach Matera by Pugliairbus.
From Naples’ Capodichino airport, about 300 km away, you can reach Matera by bus.
By train from Bari, you can reach Matera Centrale station with a line of the Ferrovie Appulo Lucane, in about 80 minutes.
By bus, from Rome, Florence, Pisa and Siena you can get to Matera with the Marozzi and Liscio bus lines.
From Milan, Ancona, Bologna and Naples you can get to Matera with the Marino bus lines.
The Petruzzi bus lines connect Matera to Bologna, Modena, Parma, Chieti, Pescara and Rimini.
Miccolis bus companies connect Lecce, Brindisi, Taranto, Matera, Potenza, Salerno and Naples daily with 3 express routes.
Itabus connects Matera to Rome, Fisciano, Eboli, Bari, Caserta, Battipaglia, Fasano, Brindisi, Naples, Cosenza, Lecce.
By car, coming from the north take the A14 Bologna-Taranto motorway and exit at Bari Nord. Continue to Altamura-Matera and exit at Matera 2 until you reach the centre.
From Rome and Naples, take the A3 Salerno – Reggio Calabria motorway. Take the exit for Potenza and continue in the direction of Metaponto along the SS 407 ‘Basentana’. After passing Ferrandina Scalo, take the exit for Matera and drive along the SS 7 ‘Appia’, exiting at Matera 2.
From the south, take the A3 Reggio Calabria-Salerno motorway.
After Cosenza, take the exit for Sibari and then the SS 106 Jonica towards Taranto. Take the Matera exit, immediately after Metaponto, and exit at Matera 2 until you reach the centre.
From Salento, reach Brindisi and then follow the signs for Taranto. Once in Taranto, follow signs for the SS 106 Jonica (direction Reggio Calabria) to the Matera exit, near Metaponto.
Now that you know what to see in Matera in two days, all that remains is to wish you a good journey! And while you’re organising your weekend in Matera, remember that, with Italia Delight, you can book food and wine experiences as well as foodie trips all over Italy, created by local experts! 😍
Cover photo: kaspars-upmanis-unsplash
Featured photo: claudio-pavione-unsplash