Matera 11/01 – 12/01/2016
We are just about to pack up and head down to the coast after a couple of days here in Matera as we continue our leisurely way to Sicily for some sun sea and Godfathering. But before we get there we have been sampling the delights of the foot-part of Italy and to be fair it is a right old mixed-bag. More of that later.
Matera, a Torquay-sized settlement, is famous for its stone-buildings known as sassi and at first glimpse you may believe you have stumbled into the backdrop for a Hollywood inspired nativity scene. Or, in Tracy’s words, ‘it’s like a beige Santorini’. True the brilliantly white properties of the Caldera have been replaced by thousands of brown boxes hewn out of the local limestone within the Matera Gravina gorge. Unlike Santorini there is something haunting and beautiful about this urban sprawl that was once home to 15,000 people, half the population of Matera. By the late 1950’s, so yep, in my lifetime, the Italian government finally got so embarrassed of these poor souls living in squalor and suffering 50% mortality rate that they were forcibly moved out.
You can probably guess the next bit, the trendies, have been buying them up and renovating them faster than you can say ‘Artisan loaf anyone?’ Worse, the place is due to be the European capital of Culture in 2019 and that will be the end of the appeal. So, get there quick and spend a day or two walking around Europe’s version of a Rio Favela.
There are two Sasso districts: Barisano and the more impoverished Caveoso. Both are riddled with serpentine alleyways and staircases, and dotted with frescoed cave churches created between the 8th and 13th centuries. Today Matera contains some 3,000 habitable caves. All you need to do is gently amble around and if you are lucky then stick your head into an open door for a quick glimpse of Troglodyte living. You can also pay to go into the rock churches of Caveoso for a nosey. We being cheapskates took the €3 one church option and went around Santa Maria de Idris, the prominent one in the middle of the Sasso.
Santa Maria de Idris
Inside Santa Maria de Idris
It does get my goat when I have to pay to go into museums in Europe. We let all and sundry into our museums for free and so as a form of reciprocation us Brits should be allowed to laud it over all others and get free entrance, a bit like being a global super-human Melvyn Bragg. And before you think that a mad idea this place allowed Mel Gibson to set-up camp here for the filming of ‘The Passion of Christ’. After many hours of going up and down staircases we headed back to our conveniently situated car-park and got spruced up for a relaxing meal in a local trattoria. Here are the rest of the Sasso pictures:
1Tracy as Mary in world’s biggest Navity
Gorge with some disused caves
Cathedral with JCB doing the drains
We did try and get to visit La Raccolta delle Acque which in its own self-trumpeting way proclaims it to be one of the world’s greatest series of catacombs. This underground system of cisterns and canals collects the rainwater from the roofs, streets and houses. As it passes through the limestone it get purified and re-used as drinking water. Judging by the 50% mortality rate it is not difficult to see why this system was not accepted by the wider-world. To make matters worse we were not allowed in, tours in English have to be booked and only take place on a Saturday and Sunday. We then said we would do the Italian tour, which goes every hour, every day. We were not allowed as we were English and we have to book. Bored we left. What was I saying about reciprocal treatment?
Here are our final views of the evocative and memorable Matera.
Lads about town
Tricase Porto 8/01/2016
With our new hairstyles on-board, Tracy fully up to speed with her sea-birds and with the weather set fair we headed out of Lecce and headed for the coast at Otranto. As is the norm in this part of Italy the journey to the Eastern Seaboard was completely uninteresting with field after field populated with olive trees. In addition the buildings are an unvarying collection of little grey cubes. It is astonishing how these people care so much for their street appearance but have such little care for the streets they live in. Otranto is a pleasant enough place for a quick stroll around this time of year but in the summer this place gets mobbed. On leaving the scenery dramatically changes on towering limestone cliffs plunge to the sea and beautiful stone-built villas adorn each vantage point. The journey is now a delight to drive and a warm Italian feeling descends upon us, which of course is shattered every five minutes by some horn-tooting Latin Lothario in a rush to see mama. We pulled up in the car-park of the EU-funded Greco-Italian managed ocean research centre. Obviously it was no longer functional but it was nice to think that €4 million had been spent to allow us to park safely for the night.
Here are some pics of the drive.
One of the additions we had to our van before we left the UK was the fitting of a sophisticated alarm system. Not only can we program it to do this and that and go to the loo in the night without it going off we can also warn the outside world not to mess with us by the use of omnipresent flashing blue LEDs. Before leaving we obviously tested it and found nothing to be amiss. Disaster struck when we reached countries that either lie-on or are very close to the Mediterranean. If we are in any sort of remote spot that has a stray dog problem we get woken-up by mad mutts barking at the twinkling blue lights. Clearly a British hound with its salivating stiff upper-lip is not going to carry on in such a way but a highly-strung Med-based Mongrel is a different matter. Evidently the company who sold us the alarm never tested for this eventuality which has left us with some decisions to make. Do we not use the alarm? Do we surround the van with drugged dog food to put the pups to sleep? Do we get a really big mean dog ourselves, like a Dingo? Probably not practical in a van. Do I stay up all night and cuddle them? We just don’t know but Tracy is getting concerned the van is taking on a distinct yellow hue around the offending lights.
The journey from Tricase soon fizzled out scenically and we were back into the Olive Tree incubus. Here are the pictures of the best of it:
Gallipoli, not to be confused with Gallipoli in Turkey where half population of Australasia got slaughtered a hundred years ago was our next stopover.
This town does not allow us homies anywhere near the centre as so on Sunday morning we got up and had a ride around both the new and old-towns from our slightly distant parking spot. The old-town sits on an island and is connected to the mainland by a bridge. It is a picturesque place surrounded by high walls to protect it from attacks from the sea. After the bike ride we had a coffee and cake before getting back on the road.
ladies on the Loose
Street Life 1
Shall I have some food?
New town from old town
New town Street life
Old Town rampart
Us in helmets
The drive from Gallipoli took us through some really awful places, really awful with Taranto being one enormous blot on a very dreadful landscape. It was so bad I never took a picture apart from the one to be used on google maps of our journey. Chiatona itself did provide a great place to bed down for the night with a place right on the beach. In some strange way it reminded me of Hayling Island, and on that thoughtful note.
Love to all