Matera is a place to see! The cave cut homes and rock buildings melt into one another and it is hard to determine where the natural rock ends and the stone structures begin. The tufa grottos have been cut and modified into homes since the Neolithic age, making it one of the longest continually inhabited places on earth. Since receiving unesco status in the 1990’s, Matera has become Basilicata’s biggest tourist attraction.
Within living memory, however, this tourist Mecca was the scene of abject poverty and profond human misery. As described in Carlo Levi’s excellent book “Christ Stopped at Eboli”, Matera in the 1930’s was a desperate place. Malaria was endemic and the child mortality rate was 50%. The situation was so embarrassing to the Italian government that in 1950 a law was passed requiring the 30,000 residents of the sassi (the cave area) to move to new accommodation above the ravine. In the time since many of the formerly dank and crowded cave dwellings have been remodelled into tourist shops, restaurants and guest houses.
It has been 53 days since we left Innsbruck and only 8 of them have been “rest” days. There really isn’t anything restful about rest days because we always stop in places with lots to see and as a result are on our feet the whole time exploring. I am stiff and sore and I am looking forward to sitting on my rump cycling down to the south coast tomorrow.
We have now cycled over 2500 km in an unbroken line from Innsbruck.