The 800 km. coastline of Puglia, which includes the heel of the boot of Italy, is the longest on the mainland characterized by both steep cliffs and golden-sand beaches. Having been under the Ancient Greeks and the Romans, the Byzantine and the Normans, Swabians and Angevins, traces of that rich heritage from diverse cultures can be seen throughout the land, from medieval castles, Baroque and Romanesque churches, noble palaces and historical residences.
In 2019, Matera was declared a European Capital of Culture. Known as the underground city, the Sassi and the park of the Rupestrian Churches were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
The Sassi of Matera are human dwellings dug into the chalky sedimentary rocks typical of the area. This ancient town on the edge of the region of Basilicata developed on one slope of the rocky ravine known as the Gravina.
By the late 1800s, Matera was known as the “shame of Italy” because of the shocking poverty, poor sanitation and rampant disease that predominated in the cave dwellings. The city was evacuated in 1952 and its people were relocated to modern housing in the outskirts. The Sassi (“rocks”) lay abandoned until the 1980s when the city’s potential was recognized attracting investments that transformed what was once seen as a squalid environment into one of the most charming and interesting cities in Italy.
A private walking tour of the historic center & ancient neighborhoods of Matera, the Sassi, allows us to understand the evolution of this pre-historic town to what it is today. From the mostly Baroque historic center, we visit the oldest & most interesting part of town, the Sassi where we can see one of the unique rock-hewn churches and cave-house museums to understand what it was like to live in such limited confines. With water supply one of their biggest challenges, cisterns and water channels were built to collect rainwater. We can access the largest cistern called Palombaro which has pillars engraved in the rock and vaults more than fifteen meters high.
Puglia is a region where one can spend days traveling the countryside visiting beautiful little towns. We can take you by the sea to Trani with its beautiful Romanesque cathedral and Swabian castle or visit Castel del Monte, the unique octagonal-shaped 13th-century castle situated on a hill in Andria used as a hunting lodge then a prison. There’s Alberobello with its famous trulli, stonehouses with conical roofs; Martina Franca with its typical baroque palaces and churches; Locorotondo, the circular town on top of a hill with its white-washed houses; the Baroque architecture of Puglia’s capital, Lecce; and the many alleyways of “the white city”, Ostuni.
Puglia is also an agricultural region with plenty of sun, fertile soil, and a flat landscape ideal for growing vegetables. It produces 23% of the olive oil in Europe which locals love to apply liberally to all their dishes. For Puglian gastronomical delights, we can stop in Ceglie Messapica or visit the picturesque seaside town of Polignano a Mare to indulge in some seafood.
For devout followers of Padre Pio, canonized as a saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, we could also organize a trip to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit his shrine.