• Matera's caves: Italy off the beaten path


    For visitors who have experienced Italy's most famous cities, such as Rome, Florence and Venice, and wish to explore beyond the beaten path, Matera may be the perfect destination.

    A small city of 60,000 inhabitants in southern Italy's Basilicata region, Matera is a city of natural caves that have been used as housing since the Neolithic age. Over time, the caves have been expanded and cavern-like houses have been carved out of limestone.

    The historical center is located on a slope, making it possible for visitors to walk on a street that is at ground-level for one residence while functioning as the ceiling of another.

    While the city has been inhabited by the very poor for most of its history, recent developments have made it an attractive tourist destination. Matera's caves are currently a UNESCO World Heritage site, and many of the city's cavern dwellings have been converted into restaurants, pubs and hotels, making it possible for visitors to sleep inside a prehistoric residence while enjoying modern amenities such as climate control and television.

    Matera's historical center has even attracted the attention of filmmakers. Due to its resemblance to ancient sites around Jerusalem, many movies have been filmed there, including Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."

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