The Sassi of Matera in Basilicata speak for themselves. But what about the surrounding countryside now denominated the Murgia Materana Park. Afterall, they both form the designated UNESCO site since 1993.
The park is rich with archaeological and historical points of interest, each testimony to people's struggle to make a living. They include the Gravina of Matera, the spectacular canyon which crosses the entire zone some 230-290 feet deep and running almonst as far as Montescaglioso. Do cross it to view Matera from the opposite side.
Then there are the rural relics such as the Jazzo Gattini, now a visitor centre but once a 19th century fortified sheepfold typical of the Murgia zone. Another visitor center is the Masseria Radogna, a residential home of the same period situated between characteristic dry stone walls and almond and olive tress. Older still are the remains of a Neolithic village with its sepulchral structures dating from 7000-3500BC.
Perhaps the churches hewn in the tufa rock are the real human patrimony of the park. They narrate the story of the Middle ages when the Greek- Byzantine culture met with the Latin one in Matera. Each has its own architecture and iconagraphy. The following are representative: Madonna delle Tre Porte, Madonna delle Croci and San Falcone. This final one is a rupestral complex subsequently used as a sheepfold, the church is among the oldest of the Murgia.
As part of our SIAFT (Southern Italy Agrifood and Tourism) invitation by the Chamber of Commerce of Matera in June 2011, we were lucky enough to be taken to the most evocative of the lot. It is the Crypt of the Original Sin, known as the Sistine Chapel of South Italy for its amazing frescoes.
It dates from about 849AD and has remained untouched, unlike practically all the frescoes of the other rock churches which were modified following the Saracen invasion as people hid in them to escape and seek spiritual help. The frescoes are the oldest evidence of art in south Italy and were believed to have been created by a Benedictine monk from Benevento. Comparisons have been made with the Byzantine frecsoes of 546 AD in the Basilica of San Vita in Ravenna depicting the Empress Teodora in Ravenna.
The Crypt of the Original Sin is located in Contrada Perrapenta, 14km south of Matera. Booking is required to see it and a guide and a shuttle service is available and highly recommended as it is almost impossible to find. It was only really discovered in 1959 after a local association had heard shepherd tales of a cave offering protection. Inspired, within 4 years the group had chronicled over 300. Yet, the Original Sin Crypt is a unique example. The mini sound and light show seems a little out of place at first, but they have a done a good job to preserve this unique artwork