We recently made a visit to Matera in southern Italy. Matera is an incredible town known for its caves. It is UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the planet’s oldest cities. The caves provided a natural place for early settlers to live, and man has continued to live in them through today. A more “modern” city sits on top of the caves perched on the edge of a gorge, but it is the caves that define this place
It is a remarkable place that has to be experienced to truly appreciate. I think if you went quickly through this city, you would be amazed. But it is in the occupying of the place for a period of time that it works its way into you. Walking around with all the stone from which there is no relief, walking a normal alley only to have stone rise up out of it to heights of 15 feet or more above you, knowing there is some kind of habitation in that stone, you feel like, indeed you are, crawling in and out of the stone as if you were hiking the Grand Canyon. Yet intertwined amongst all this stone is a human habitation, some of it crude, some refined.
You sense, you feel the harshness of life for so many centuries here. The ever present stone hardness, without relief, makes you hard. You steel yourself to what life imposes, clamp your jaw and soldier on.
And yet, there is something about the indefatigable human spirit that emerges from it all, filling you with awe and inspiration. In spite of all the hardness, There is an admirable, human quality that brings a softness to the spirit. Too, there is an incredible ingenuity evident in how life was pulled from this stone. We talk with Vincenzo, our B&B owner, and the love and passion for Matera oozes from him. He’s proud to have a daughter he will raise here. He is eloquent in describing the life and character and wonder of the place. It is an inspired story.
I came away from Matera glad we had stayed for several days, glad that it is in our nature to be slow travelers. Yes, spending a day here would have an impact. But not the deep, deep impact it has when you spend time and absorb the history and character that can only be absorbed by staying, feeling and experiencing. This is the beauty of slow travel. You are a participant not just a spectator.
[boilerplate plate = “bsteiner”]