‘The gully had a strange shape: it was formed by two half -funnels, side by side, separated by a narrow spur and meeting at the bottom, where I could see a white church, Santa Maria de Idris, which looked half -sunk in the ground. The two funnels, I learned, were called Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. They were like a schoolboy’s idea of Dante’s Inferno(…) 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 into the hardened clay walls of the gully, each with its own fagade, some of which were quite handsome, with eighteenth-century ornamentation.’
These are the words used by Carlo Levi in the book ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’ to tell about these humble houses. Until the 1950 the ancient districts carved into the rock were inhabited by peasants and craftsmen with their families.
These dwellings were very humble, inside there was a hearth, a small table in the center, a matress stuffed with maize leaves and a big dresser sometimes used as cradle.
The cave dwelling was also the stable for the animals that warmed up the house. While the men went in the fields women and children spent their time in the ‘vicinato’ (neighbourhood). The courtyard was the heart of the social relations between the residents.
Along these streets in 1964 Pier Paolo Pasolini directed a large part of ‘Il Vangelo secondo Matteo’ (The Gospel According to St. Matthew). At that time Matera was an unknow city, but after having visited Israel, Palestine and Syria, Pasolini chose Matera and Sassi for his movie about Jesus life.