Palombaro Lungo MATERA CISTERN Review — Majestic - Recommended tour stop in 2019 European Capital of Culture for look at cave city's interesting history
On a sunny day the circular ledge around a tree in Matera’s Central Piazza Vittorio Veneto invites a sit to re-charge. If you enjoy people watching, the pensioners of Southern Italy's Matera drawn to collect in this spot unfold the equivalent of a silent film showcasing Matera today—or a talkie if you speak Italian.
It’s also a great place to perch as you wait your turn for one of the few English language tours of the cistern of old beneath your feet, Palombaro Longo, an underground treasure that you likely were unaware of as you tread above from the modern city to tour the Sassi web of caves that descend from just a block or so away. You are unable to enter the cistern without a ticketed tour.
It’s dark. The metal catwalk entrance descends, descends, cuts across and then down, down again. Now, it’s chilly bordering on cold too. Soon the bright streets are forgotten in what feels like a cross between a dimly lit holy temple and a tomb. Look up and a sense of the cistern’s majesty will fill you and enchant.
The brief narrative by the tour guide intrigues you all the more. You learn that the water was drawn from this vast underground cistern by simple well buckets—in what is now the Piazza above and also from some of Matera’s houses. Water came both from springs below and rainwater from above—a life source for the cave dwellers of the grotto.
At this point you have descended even farther below so that you crane your neck to see water lines above, the top being about 15 meters high. As the cistern’s storyteller continues, you learn about more modern day explorers re-discovering the cistern in 1991 and how they navigated its contours by boat.
Palombaro Longo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site before the millennium, it was part of the network of underground cisterns that sustained ancient Matera, today a 2019 European Capital of Culture city.