• Registration Year


  • Registered Sector

    I Sassi di Matera

  • Historical Function

    Agriculture and herding.

  • Administrative Status

    Chief city of the province of Matera.

Location and site

In southern Italy's Basilicata region, Matera is situated in a zone of varied topography. A belt of limestone 350-400 m. thick, dominated by a clay plateau, overlooks a deep valley and two natural depressions. Cave dwellings, known as the Sassi, are carved into the slopes.

Urban Morphology

The buildings of several storeys that make up the urban fabric of Matera, which is predominently vertical in form, are carved into the rock face. Its design, which was adapted to sunlight and wind, was based on water management: the water collecting and distribution systems worked by gravity and the cistern was in the centre of the ensemble. The plan is made up of streets, alleys, terraces and steps which often coincide with the rooftops of houses.

The city is in the midst of a natural context. The origin of its carved and sculpted forms is the simple grotto. Cradle vaults are the basis of the architecture of the grottos with partitions, dwellings with terraces, palaces and churches. Hanging gardens and vegetable gardens are integrated into this mineral landscape where the administration of water and earth is inscribed in the stone. The ensemble, with its unique material and consistent principles, is at the same time dense and uniform.

Registration Criteria

The Sassi of Matera represent a noteworthy example of cave dwellings that have been perfectly adapted and which manifest a continuity over more than two millennia. (III) The Sassi di Matera and the park constitute a noteworthy example of an architectural and landscape ensemble which illustrate important stages in the history of humanity, (IV) as well as a traditional village, carved out of the earth, that shows the evolution of a culture which has maintained a close link with its natural environment. (V)

Historical Reference

  • With the improvement of climatic conditions, permanent villages began to appear during the recent Holocene era.
  • Near the site occupied today by Matera, deforestration led to the transhumance (seasonal movement of livestock between the upper plateau and the valley). The routes with gravine (landforms with crevices) were preferred because of the shelter they offered.
  • During the Bronze and Iron Ages, new tools facilitated carving into the limestone layer. Stone dwellings were formed around a common space and rural sanctuaries were established around water reservoirs.
  • Greek colonisation in the 4th and 5th centuries led to the dissemination of knowledge and political ideals. Free political and military association evolved into organized networks around fixed settlements, and these communities became towns.
  • Despite the Roman repression in the 3rd century B.C. and subsequent invasions (by Byzantines, Lombards, Normans, Arabs, Slavs and Aragonese), the region around Matera maintained and enriched its traditions.
  • The urban system, the organisation of which was based on water management, remained intact until the 18th century. In 1950, when the project to evacuate the Sassi was initiated, more than 1,600 homes were identified as cave dwellings. In recent years many of the homes have been renovated and the ensemble is once again populated.
Mr. Raffaello Giulio De Ruggieri
Comune di Matera
Via Aldo Moro, s.n.c.
75100 Matera, Italia
+39.(0)835 24.22, 24.13.08
+39.(0)835 24.13.69, 24.14.00