Margaret is a Hong Kong-based design photographer and writer. For collaboration, please contact maleemaleehong@gmail.com

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Name 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy! Go!

Errr, Pompeii! err, Pisa!! And, and Venice!

Correct! What about Matera?

Took a few steps downstairs and got off the bus from Bari. The very first vision was the empty car park and a closed office on a Sunday morning. Not many people around, and I guessed they are bus drivers or shop owners closeby. The sign ‘Sassi’ with a ‘this way’ arrow underneath caught my eye and my feet naturally moved rightwards, where I seemed to be the only one coming for the beauty of the old, stuffed, shabby town.

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Along the humanless street before I reached another sign of Sassi pointing to a small lane on the left, shops stand far apart from each other and no sign of Gucci or Prada is seen. Having the thought of being one of a few tourists that day in head and turning left, I took a little glimpse at the back as a reaction to the sudden chit-chat noise coming to my ear.

A group of tourists and a tour guide.

The closer to the end of the lane, the clearer picture I had with the number of people assembling outside the old town of Matera, like the ants can’t resist the temptation of honey. Just that the story of Matera is not sweet at all, but bitter, or even stink.

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Following the crowd, I first picked up some postcards from a newsstand right at the end of the lane, then walked pass several popular restaurants on the side of the Piazza and finally came close to where the people are most concentrated – a panoramic view of the whole old town, exactly like the photos on postcards, breath-taking and mind-blowing.

To be honest the last time I had the feeling of stunned, speechless and heart-melted was the moment Eiffel Tower suddenly popped up in front of me after miles of walking and expectation. Such a gorgeous and harmonious combination of the urban design and the tower, like all those watercolour pictures and chic fashion magazine photos. This time, it’s not about the glam or the great architecture or the breath of romance but the shocking fact about the inhabitation of such shabby and worn-out stack of hard-edged caves.

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In case you are not so familiar with this hidden beauty right at the border of the Puglia region in south Italy, it is the oldest continuously-inhabited settlement in history, like Petra in Jordan. It is also recognized by the UN as UNESCO World Heritage Site and honoured to be the 2019 European Capital of Culture in Italy.

It was not until later the hygiene and living situation gone unacceptable did the Italian government build the houses as an alternative to sassi caves. It’s a good news to the original inhabitants and also to the wanderlust. Who else is with me? To be obsessed with all these ancient cultural fundamental valuables? Haunted and curious at the same time, on one hand I look up to these early human being for how creative and how strong they were in terms of making a living out of nothing but dust and bare land, on the other hand I felt so sorry for having such a desparing living condition and a lack of care.

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The best way to visit Matera is to walk and experience what the town gives you. It is old, yes, but it doesn’t mean it is boring. There are a lot of surprises about this seem-to-be shabby town. For example, nice bars and restaurants with the view of the whole town or even of the valley where the Sassi locates are around the corner, you can always have a nice little afternoon or morning tea time in any of these small but cozy places. Food is exceptionally good here! (maybe it’s just me being too narrow-minded lol) Trying to have a TripAdvisor restaurant on hand and search for it is frustrating and tiring and not easy, but wandering around and popping into anything appealing makes your day! That’s kind of my traveling philosophy. Unless there is something I can’t go or do or eat without, which is usually quite rare since I always want to get surprises, I wouldn’t be bothered to search in advance and force myself to stick to the information.

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This are the original caves where the inhabitants call home for many years. When I was young, my parents brought me to Mogao Cave in DunHuang, China, to read the documentary and history alive, and to GuiLin to feel the humidity of the dribbling chandlier cave, so it’s of no surprise that I am into such mysterious breeding ground of arts and intelligence and all the natural evolution happened or happening.

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Unfortunately as a backpacker without driving license, I am not allowed (yes that’s what the girl at the ‘Tourist Information’ point had told me, for which I am still pissed about) to go across and visit. Apparently I stood on this side and observed the little men movement over the other side for quite some time, pretty sure there’s a way to go up without a car. Though it did have a bus to go up since there was a festival (also from the girl, who had no intention to help me to travel to the fullest), the bus schedule sucked in Southern Italy, especially on weekends. I didn’t want to risk to get back to Bari at night time so I gave up to the Sassi at the end.

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One thing I learn from my Italian friend is that you don’t need to follow the rules all the time (check here if you wonder what had he done), so I went off the ‘Tourist this way’ path and strolled around. I saw abandoned houses with worn-out kitchen ware and a strong sense of emptiness, inhabitants walking around as usual, some exhibitions charging tourists money to go inside, tourists gathering up in the restaurants area, clothes drying out on the strings and green decoration from time to time.

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Matera itself is not a popular travel destination yet, so empty street and normal residents daily life are still preserved in a down-to-earth way. The city is quite plain and quiet, where shops are not for tourists entertaining purposes, but for the sack of the residents. Though it is not the most convenient place to spend a Sunday at, it is for sure a good weekend getaway in terms of the one and only landscape.

Photos: Matera | The Tramontano Castle

Little travel tips

-Trains to Matera are run by private company Ferrovie Appulo Lucane (FAL)
-Tickets can be bought at FAL ticket office in Bari located close to Bari Centrale train station Or Tabacco shop
-No train is available on Sunday so bus is the alternative
-Bus tickets can be bought at the office (not on Sunday), Tabacco shops (not on Sunday either) OR onboard


It's Margaret here, from Hong Kong. Love fashion, good wine, dreaming and this blog. Cheers!

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