MATERA TOURS with Tour Guide Amy Weideman Review - Looking Back Over 7500 Years, a tour including cave museum, ancient churches and more
Tour guide Amy Weideman quickly immerses you in the context of the dramatic cave city surrounds
Artifacts, rooms and photographs of the typical cave home before the forced evacuation of the Sassi.
Matera, Italy is a Hollywood Star
Mel Gibson has found himself in many a controversy in the United States, but in Matera, Italy he will always be Numero Uno…
Walk past a newspaper and book kiosk over the ancient city’s amazing cistern, Palombaro Lungo, and you see his picture prominently displayed on a Matera guide book as he is filming Passion of the Christ. That was just one bible movie filmed here—the first blockbuster—but many other Hollywood crews followed, such as those filming Wonder Woman, James Bond, and more. Cave city Matera, after all, is nothing if not photogenic.
Matera Tours Guide Amy Weideman Launches Your Matera Stay
Experienced Matera tour guide Amy Weideman says she usually mentions this Gibson history in Matera during her walking tours for Americans by recounting this Hollywood history. The tour begins by her reaching back to 7500 years to the first known Matera inhabitants--nomads-- during the Paleolithic age. The first settlers in the Neolithic era actually lived in huts that were within small villages on the flatter plateau area. Their livestock (sheep and cows) were kept within the village which had low-lying stone walls surrounding them -- to keep the animals in.
By this writer’s lights, the ease with which Ann Arbor native Weideman breaks it all down for an American mindset is the highest recommendation for her tour. It’s a definite plus to begin your Matera stay with this tour to get the needed overview.
As you walk in and around the Sassi of today—Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso— Weideman gives you what could be described as the Cliff Notes tour. You learn that archeologists cannot date the many cave structures with accuracy, because this is a city of living architecture constantly being carved and re-carved.
Matera Tours Includes a Dramatic Stop in One of the Cave Museums
Perhaps the most dramatic part of the tour is the stop in one of the cave museums that preserves the way of life typical of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. It’s small and cramped—you do feel like you are in a cave. You learn that large families —ten children not being uncommon—would share the cramped space with their donkey, sheep and goats kept in a makeshift stall at one end of the cave. You see a small kitchen table and learn only the father and eldest son would dine there, a symbol of the extra respect afforded them, and typically only once a day. You learn that the chest of drawers is at night the makeshift bed for some of the children. You see how the small cave house was plugged into the underground cisterns. You see a bread stamp too, that was used by the family to mark their bread brought to Matera’s communal oven. And though the exit to the cave is just beyond the wheat chest whose stores were divided between the cave’s animals and humans, you feel the claustrophobia, breeding grounds for disease, and other trappings of the dire poverty that led Dr. Carlo Levi to pen his Christ Stopped in Eboli, and the eventual forced evacuation of the Sassi, which in the 80’s became a haven for artists and hippies and even some drug addicts among other squatters when it was a no man’s land.
From the cave museum the tour continues to the Madonna de Idris church built into the rock landscape. It was a place where the devout came to do extreme devotionals to pray for rain, and where you can see remnants of colorful frescos typical of the many cave churches where the very devout population came to worship.
The cave museums give a powerful window on the grueling poverty of Sassi dwellers in days gone by, including telling photographs of residents during its last days before forced evacuations due to disease.
As you make your way to these historic spots you are passing posh new restaurants and new boutique hotels built in the caves that you imagine still smell of wet paint. Weidman’s tour superimposes an image of Matera’s misery in days gone by over the present day construction cranes and other signs that this 1993-designated World Heritage Site—now anointed as a 2019 European Capital of Culture— is a happening place.
One tip to get the most of Weidman’s tour is to book it on a day when this single mother can also be your guest for lunch. She not only picked a great restaurant and menu, but also gave a picture of what ex-pat life is in Matera. You learn surprising things about Matera, such as its hosting an annual Women’s Fiction Festival since 2004.
For more information visit the Matera Tours website.