A warren of cave dwellings and caverns carved into the hillside of Matera’s old town, the Sassi di Matera are one of Italy’s most unique, yet still off-the-beaten-track sights. The labyrinth of troglodyte dwellings date back to prehistoric times and were lived in until the 1950s when the new city was built. Today, the site is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has served as a backdrop for a number of films, including Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
The Sassi di Matera are divided into two distinct districts – Sasso Caveoso, where the older dwellings give an authentic taste of cave life, and Sasso Barisano, where many of the caves have been repurposed as hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. The best way to explore is on foot, weaving your way through the narrow alleyways, and highlights include a series of cave churches with beautiful preserved frescos; the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitaro, an 18th-century house museum; and the MUSMA art museum.