Matera

Bari to Matera has its own train station with a narrow gauge track run by Ferrovie Appulo Lucane just literally around the corner from the central Bari train station. (2 minutes walk).

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I did the hard work the afternoon before. First you have to find the ticket office which is tucked away. Then buying a ticket was a wee challenge. The ticket attendant non parla inglese and you cannot pay with carta di credito, …only cash. I slunk off to study the timetable then went off to find the money machine and came back. I held out my 50 euro note to him as it was dispatched to me. It wasn’t expensive for tickets, maybe 4 or so euros each way (I didn’t make a note). But he wasn’t very pleased about the denomination and grumpily dug out the change to get rid of me. 🙂

So this morning I’m all set and make straight for the 07:26 train where I scan my ticket on a state of the art reader which releases the gate and hop on the train and take a seat. This station is cleaner and better organised than the state railway station. There are signs up saying there has been funding from the EU. (I’ve seen projects funded by the EU quite a bit in Puglia). We set off exactly on time and grind our way slowly to each of the numerous stations in the increasingly distant Bari outskirts. It is painfully slow and by the time we seem to have actually got out into the rural Puglia environment I’m feeling the narrow gauge-ness of this journey. We stop in tiny, ordinary looking places for workers and school children. There seems few tourists.

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At one point an announcement is made in Italian? Bariese? and then suddenly the train splits in two. I’m a bit panicked that I am on the right half, but a nice man beside me reassures me…’si, per Matera’.

Along the way I see lots of track improvement work/double tracking? and lots of station works. From time to time we have to stop and wait for a train coming in the opposite direction to pass. The scenery changes as we head inland. Of course the towns become more spread out and there are no old villages to be seen, it all appears to be modern looking buildings and shopping centres. There are lots of wind turbines and olive trees and as we pass into the region of Basilicata the landscape becomes scrubby and dry with big open highways.

Coming into Matera itself is marked with lots of cranes on the horizon and enormous amounts of building. Matera has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2019 and they are in full preparation mode.

We enter a tunnel and have arrived at the underground Matera station.

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I make my way through the the newer part of town gently sloping downhill past the shops until I arrive in the piazza which is being decorated for a festa. A shopkeeper standing outside his shop to inspect the festa activity, points me towards the entrance to the Sassi with a smile. Into the centre of the piazza and down the stairs. Down there are wonderful views out to the ancient city beneath with it’s dwellings. The dwellings we all come to see.

 

I continue down the stairs emerging into the Sassi alleys, and down, down, down the hill I stroll. It feels like I have time traveled to some Arab city such as Bethlehem or somewhere in Palestine or Morocco. The streets are steep and narrow and lined with tile roofed, grey stone dwellings. Some are fully formed, others seem to emerge from the rock in which they are carved like shapeshifters. All are jumbled together closely, and even on top of each other. They tumble their way down the hill towards the ravine with it’s narrow stream dividing the valley. Then steeply, the land climbs up the other side with little or no signs of human habitation over there. The river is called La Gravina.

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There are vehicles like tuk tuks that navigate the narrow streets and I realise this area is not friendly for anyone with mobility issues, it is steep, cobbled, uneven and makes for concentrated walking. It is hot and I move slowly.

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It is absolutely fascinating.

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At the bottom road of the Sassi I come across a sign advertising entrance to a church, monastery and 3 dwellings with cisterns for €5 . I haven’t done my homework in deciding what I would do once I got here so this seems like a good start.

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I think I am in Santa Lucia alle Malve and it really is an amazing place but unfortunately photography is not allowed. It is cool inside. The structures are all in relief, carved out rather than built, and it is peaceful and beautiful. There are frescoes, carved crosses, and room after room. Stairs are carved into the stone, and then there are the cisterns. I learn that it is the cisterns that has won Matera UNESCO site status. Basilicata is a dry region and the people of this area had ingeniously carved grooves forming water courses across the roofs, through the rooms and into cisterns. These became their water source.

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There was an order of Palestinian nuns here for a long stretch.

Once I emerge back out into the bright sun and heat I make my way further along the side of the hill wending around its contours. I can see people across the valley on the cliffs and in the caves and I can see there is a walking swing bridge with a zig zagging track to access the area but the heat is such that I don’t want the exertion.

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I gaze out over the scene; the Sassi, the astonishing churches, the valley, and it is a scene of such beauty and human interest, it is impossible to absorb. I can see the value in staying here for longer than a day trip. I need to see this at different times of the day, to see it at night when the stars are out, to allow myself the time I need to take this in. (Alberobello was different for me in that after a few hours I felt I had seen what I came to see; Matera needs some time).

After a while I stroll on and explore churches, buy postcards at a stall and gradually make my way back up to the new town. Now I am regularly approached by beggars. They speak to me in English, give me their quick elevator story, a sad 1 minute of Africa, boats, Italy, no money. I stop in a cafe for gelato and fruit salad which is a tonic in the heat. Still the beggars come and they are persistent. I give my cheese and crackers to one, not sure if he quite wanted them?? 🙂

I walk back in the afternoon to the train station and wait and watch dodgy behaviour by a couple of young guys. It is always educational to see tactics being played out. They were taking selfies right over the top of their heads so they could get a good look at the tourists handbags behind them. I guess they were assessing to see which were the easiest to rob.

But the train came and we all moved on and I took the long ride back to Bari.

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8 thoughts on “Matera

  1. Yes, Matera is a special place and the trains in the deep south are an experience in themselves. Try taking a train in Calabria some time… When I visited Matera by way of public transportation a little over a year ago from Potenza, there was only a public bus, which was okay but crowded, perhaps because the schedule was a bit limited.

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    1. Public transport in Italy is worthy of a post in itself 🙂 I actually really enjoy it most of the time. It’s generally cheap, on time, fairly organised and represents an interesting cross section of every part of society. (I’m also terrified to drive in Italy). Calabria next trip I swear. I am going on the Karen in Calabria holiday as recommended and I just can’t wait!

      Liked by 1 person

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