If ever there was a doppelgänger to Jerusalem, the sassi of Matera would be it.
The sassi are an eerily beautiful cluster of cave dwellings covering several neighboring slopes of a ravine and presiding over what could be easily mistaken for the Judean Desert. No wonder that many biblical movies were filmed here, including the notorious Passion of Christ.
The stone the sassi are built of is similar to Jerusalem stone in color, texture, and the way it reflects the light: changing color as the sun moves over the sky.
These dwellings were once populated by thousands of people living as extended families (which also included farm animals) often up to 15 people, a pig, and a donkey in one large cave dwelling. As you can imagine, these living conditions weren’t super healthy, but as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so the fittest survived and the communities flourished. The cave dwellers’ misery, however, were brought to light in a book authored by one Carlo Levi, a Jew hiding in Matera from the Nazis during World War II. The Italian government was embarrassed to be seen uncivilized, having allowed such misery, and forcefully moved the entire community into newly built concrete apartment blocks by the end of the 1960’s. The sassi stood abandoned for some 25-30 years, and then, lo and behold, they slowly started becoming the “it” neighborhood (like any other ghetto!), with people moving in, renovating the caves, building new houses into the mountains, opening luxury hotels, and raising the prices of the cave real estate.
But don’t you fret. It’s not all lost yet. If you want to invest or become a cave dweller yourself, there are plenty unrenovated caves available for your living pleasure – just open up your wallet!
However, this is not a second Jerusalem, similarity in appearance notwithstanding. The Computer did not spread its holy energy here. Beautiful as it is, the spiritual ain’t hovering here in the air.
The long way back to the trulli country was somewhat spiritual though. I am truly in love with the trulli, pun not intended. They poke their stony heads out of the grassy fields, sport newly whitewashed clothes (or unwashed decrepit ones) – all are cute and darling all the same. The farmland here is peaceful and beautifully kept. As if these were not real, but gentlemen farmers. The fields and olive tree groves are neatly separated by stone fences; cows, goats, sheep, and horses graze the succulent green grass, poppies and other wild flowers carpet the wild land parcels. Everything is serene and eye-pleasing. Never expected anything like this anywhere south of Naples!