Matera, a city in Southern Italy is one of the oldest settlements in the world that is still inhabited today. Most of this deeply fascinating city built into the slop of a rocky ravine is below your feet. Its tangle of streets criss-cross the rooftops of houses, many of them caves dug into the hardened clay walls of gullies.
“Of children I saw an infinite number. They appeared from everywhere in the dust and the heat, amid the flies, stark naked or in rags. I have never in all my life seen such a picture of poverty.”
Publication of Levi’s book triggered a reaction from the Government and in the 1950’s the people were moved out of the caves and into modern housing. Today some of the old cave dwellings have been renovated and have become family homes again while others have been given a new lease of life as luxury hotels.
Stay in the ancient Sassi Caves with Albatross
Albatross Tours includes a two-night stay in such a hotel in its 17-day tour of Southern Italy and Sicily. Each guest cave is simple but stylish with wood hewn cupboards, a high bed, wooden benches dressed with a white linen table-cloth, flickering candles in alcoves and a magnificent free-standing bath on the flagstone floor. The only light comes from a high window which you open by pulling on a piece of string. There is no television or other concessions to modern life.
The company likes to book accommodation for its tours which reflects the true character of the city or town. In Alberobello in Puglia, for example, we are all given an individual Trulli in which to sleep. These quaint houses, once built entirely of dry stones, have a conical roof and arched alcoves for sleeping and eating.
The buildings are believed to date back to the 15th century. Without any binding material the huts were easy and quick to disassemble if the King’s property tax collectors were headed their way. Later Trullis were built as permanent homes and the small town of Alberobello is made up almost entirely of these unique white houses, colourfully dressed with window-boxes.