OF THE SIX MONTHS SPENT TRAVELING THROUGHOUT ITALY, visiting renowned cities and unknown villages, Matera made the biggest impression. This city, like many in the Mediterranean region, unfolds in layers telling you its story through its architecture. Settlement in what is now Matera dates back to prehistoric times, where people made their homes by carving into the rock formations - walls of rock that rise up, forming La Gravina - a deep ravine below which a winding river cuts through.
The first indication of its past comes subtly - POCK MARKS IN THAT PALE WHITE ROCK WALL -
When the government forced my grandparents to move to the newly built high rises on the hills, they had no idea what to do with the bathtub. So they planted a garden in it - to bring some remnant of normalcy with them from the Sassi.
- Tour Guide in Matera, 2010
- REVEAL THEMSELVES AS CAVES. And out of that craggly rock, straight walls begin to rise. They disappear momentarily behind modern buildings - the new town of Matera. If you're traveling the conventional way, you arrive at the ravine from above. The cobbled streets upon which you set foot are reminiscent of many other Italian cities. Rough - but neat in their roughness and choreographed as part of a tradition that dates back centuries. Slowly you descend into a dense fabric of stone architecture - washed in pale yellows and grays, articulated by the sharp line of a roof or the bright orange clay leaders draining water from above. Pitch black rectangular openings mark the surface of the stone, some covered with wooden shutters.
There's little delineation between houses; THEY'RE ALL STACKED UPON ONE ANOTHER -
- THE TERRACE OF ONE TURNS INTO THE ROOF OF THE HOUSE BELOW. The path down becomes intuitive though not entirely obvious. Dead ends will bring you to the someone's door. Terraced landings, stairs and sloped paths connect these intermittent levels and the pull of gravity quickens your pace. As evening descends, the sky turns into a deep glowing blue and you notice that almost every house around you has a lamp illuminating its face and it glows an orange that complements the sky almost perfectly. When I think of Matera, I think of the pale stone fading into this glowing evening, where getting lost is almost inviting.