Matera~Life in a Cave Home

“The narrow path wound its way down and around, passing over the roofs of the houses, if houses they could be called. They were caves, dug unto hardened clay walls of the gully, each with its own facade, some of which were quite handsome, with eighteenth-century ornamentation.” Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli

Matera is an ancient cave city in Basilicata located just above the instep near the heel of the boot that is Italy. Because of its stark similarity to the holy lands, several films have been made here.

A most unusual city, many people aren’t sure what to think of it. Unlike Florence, who experienced the Renaissance and a golden age, Matera experienced nothing of the sort. Life here has been difficult, especially between 1800 up until the 1950’s, when the Italian government moved over half of the inhabitants to higher ground and new homes. But in the process, the Materans lost their tight community of neighbors who worked together and shared each other’s burdens.

Today, Matera is no longer looked upon as poverty ridden and uncivilized, but is becoming cherished for its primordial ways.


Here, in the Sasso Barisano, the skilled craftsman Eustachio Rizzi and his sons, have attempted to bear witness to a past filled with memories and emotions.

This unique place entitled “C’era una volta,” meaning “Once upon a time,” uses furnishings and sculptures to portray and illustrate life in the home, in Matera, up until the end of the 60’s.


“Once upon a time there was a family in Matera who lived in a cave cut out of rocks. Today the moments, the gestures, the rhythm of everyday life in those times are reborn…”


Troglodyte living is what the people of Matera knew. As an area continuously inhabited since neolithic times, Matera and the Sassi have long ago become ancient grounds, old and barren. Many of the cave dwellings consisted of only one room. Parents and grandparents generally slept in the front, with the children in the back and the animals behind them.


There was no plumbing, no electricity and no telephones. Rainwater was collected in stone basins by underground ceramic pipes. People lived one above the other where palazzi and chapels were mixed among the cave dwellings. Cemeteries were built above church roofs.

The Materans were self-sufficient and worked hard with what little they had available to them. The barren soil around them was devoid of essential nutrients to support much vegetation.


Food was hard to come by. Vito Festo, a man who grew up here in the 1950’s, remembered building bird traps that he placed on a parapet as a young boy, but he never caught any. He also remembers walking the family pig with his brother every night before putting it in its stall behind their bed.

The women baked a unique horn-shaped bread in shared ovens that were levened and baked slowly, making large pores so the bread would stay fresh for a week. The cucina povera was very simple and consisted mostly of chickpeas, fava beans, and crushed peppers. One popular dish, Ciallèdd, was made from eggs, the town bread, and flowers that grew in nearby Murgia which were often yellow asphodels.


Community was cherished and vital to the Materans. Everyone knew each other and helped one another.They developed their own dialect, rituals and songs. People lived outside in their vicinato, or courtyard-like tiny piazza. Children played, men gathered to work and talk, and the women shelled peas together.


Matera became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and today is becoming a mecca of artists, businesses and upscale restaurants. This past October, the European Commission named Matera as one of its two capitals of European Culture for 2019.

Most places in Italy give an instant sense of wealth with glorious white marble fountains and exquisite iron balconies. Matera leaves a testament to a life of thrift and hardship where nothing is wasted. I find beauty in both.

For more information:

*A Cave with a View, The New Yorker, by D.T. Max

3 Reasons That Keep Me Returning to Italy

An chance meeting at a grad party we happened to stumble upon. We were pulled into the celebration, given wine and dolci, and warm embraces.
A chance meeting in Naples at a grad party we happened to stumble upon. We were pulled into the celebration, given wine and dolci, and many warm embraces.

I thought long and hard about this one, because there are so many things I find charming about Italy. However, I do have my top three reasons that always have the same effect on me each time I return. After making over ten trips to bella Italia, it never changes.

So what are these reasons I find so hard to resist? I’m happy to share them with you because as I write, I find myself falling in love with Italy all over again.

#1. Wine. I love wine. Simply put. It is one pleasure in life I look forward to. Not only do I appreciate the variety of tastes, but also because it symbolizes the end of a busy day and the beginning of a relaxing evening. It can be enjoyed with friends or with just a beautiful view. Italy produces the ultimate in wine experiences. At almost every aperitivo, I drink the “vino rosso,” or “vino bianco” depending on the weather. I can be assured of a delicious, locally produced wine that sets the mood for the evening nicely. Maybe it is the minerality from the soil that makes Italian wine so appealing to me, or the way it is produced. Whatever it is, at aperitivo hour you can be assured I’m enjoying one somewhere.

#2. Warmth. I’m not talking weather here, although that is a definite perk in Italy. When I think of warmth, I think of the people. The Italians hold a lot of pride in their family, traditions, and work. I admire that. It touches me when I visit a pizzeria in Naples and converse with the owner who points out a tall building across the street that his father helped build. He then shows me some old photos on the wall of his family hard at work in the restaurant that has remained in the family for generations. He is open and welcoming. Or the young man Andrea who drove my around in a little cart throughout Matera in Basilicata. He shared his heart of sorrow for his hometown which is quickly becoming overrun with tourists. It is difficult for them to see change happen where family and tradition are so important. But he accepts it with open arms, stopping for me to take photos and suggesting a good place to eat. I am constantly introduced to locals who embrace with a kiss on each cheek and a warm smile. They are not reserved. They are affectionate, emotional and loving. I feel like I’m a part of their family, and I love that.

#3. Layers of History. I’m stunned each time I put my foot on Italian soil. No matter where I stand, something of historical significance has taken place. Naples and Rome rest on top of entire civilizations from the far past. Tunnels, rooms, shops, markets, churches, banquet halls….it’s all right there, under my feet. It is everywhere, and that just gives me the shivers. How often have the subway systems given way to some new discovery, an ancient room or courtyard, that causes all work to stop. Archaeologists are called in. A man digs below his house in a small town in southern Italy to improve the sewer for his taverna only to find that there is an entire settlement right under him. Now it is a museum open to the public. Time and again, new discoveries. I don’t know about you, but my jaw drops and I stand amazed. It fascinates me.

So there you have it. Italy never ceases to surprise, inspire and entertain me. Of course the list is endless. I am addicted to the affogato, my daily gelato fix with espresso poured over the top. And Caprese salads with fresh basil leaves. Neapolitan Margherita pizza. Fresh seafood pasta with mussels in the shell. Small toy-sized fiats driven by little old ladies. Balconies bursting with red bougainvillea. But let’s be real. Italy has its aspects of irritation as well. People will cut in front of you in line, drive like lunatics, appear to be arguing loudly only to slap each other on the back minutes later, and take their time (never a rush when it comes to public relations.) I look at it all as a compromise, a kind of paradox. The good overwhelms the not so good. And that is quite enough for me. I have grown to depend on Italy for many things, from developing an appreciation and celebration of food to living my life a bit more passionately. I love my family and friends more. My choice in dress has come up a notch. And I’ve learned to slow down a bit and enjoy the conceivably smaller things in life.

What are your favorite things about Italy? If you have been to Italy, what is it that draws you back? I would love to hear from you.

I’m Going Back … Italia!


I am excited to announce my return to Italy in less than one week. I go with great expectations and a huge itinerary of new discoveries to make. There are so many more layers to experience and attempt to unravel about Italy that I must explore, to find out what lies around that next corner.

My itinerary has changed a thousand times since I first started planning my trip over the past year. There is so much I want to see and do yet. After much head scratching, this is what I have narrowed my three weeks down to…..(hard work)!!

After three days in Rome, I will head down to Naples and the wineries of Mastroberardino, where the original grapes of ancient Pompeii are being cultivated and once again made into the wine of the Roman emperors. My journey then takes me down to the UNESCO world heritage site of Matera in Basilicata. From there I will travel up to the Gargano Promontory, continue north along the Adriatic coastline and over to an agriturismo just outside of Florence. It is here I will tour the new Antinori Cantina and taste some of their exquisite Chianti and Super Tuscan wines, hopefully on horseback! 

Along the way I will keep you posted with new photos and updates as often as possible. In a sense, I am taking all of you with me! I can’t wait to share the many dimensions of Italy that I have grown to love so much. Stay tuned….much more to come!

Tutto il mio meglio (All my best)