Have you ever experienced one of our trekking and guided hiking routes in Puglia (from Salento to Gargano) and are you eager to visit other places not far from your holiday destination? Well, then you can not miss our guided hike in Basilicata, more precisely in the beautiful surrounding area of ”the Rocky City”, Matera. Numerous rock churches, about 150, are located within the Park of Murgia Materana. Precious treasures buried in the rugged rock have centuries of history. Certainly one of the most spectacular rocky landscapes of Italy, which testifies to the atavistic relationship between nature and man, is located in Basilicata, in Matera a few kilometers away from the border with Puglia. The Natural History Archaeological Park of the Materan Rupestrian Churches, more simply called Parco della Murgia Materana, is characterized by soft rock (Gravina calcarenite) marked by deep erosive slopes used by man since prehistoric times.
Spectacular is the Gravina di Matera, a huge calcareous grove that crosses the territory with its twenty miles long, reaching below the inhabited Montescaglioso. At the bottom of this canyon flows the homonymous stream whose slow water course continues south along the Sassi of Matera, touching the Montescaglioso village beyond which it flows into the river Bradano. An evocative territory, apparently desolate, but hides natural treasures and historical testimonies of exceptional value. One of the hillsides of the gravina has quite a bitter vegetation, but on the other hand we can find traces of human presence such as: rock churches, Neolithic prehistoric villages, jazzi, quarries from which the construction materials of the Sassi dwellings and masseries were derived. The ancient relationship between nature and man makes this park unique, which simultaneously protects spectacular nature and man-made works over thousands of years with patient incision work. It was the soft rock, the calcarenite, to favor the presence of the prehistoric man who used the caves as shelter, naturally formed by the defeat of the friable rock; Then, with the digging technician, the man enlarged the same cavities to find spaces, windows, shelves, churches. The steep vertical walls of the rocks and the rich vegetation that develops within the Park determine the formation of natural environments that allow the presence of rare birds. Birdwatchers have the opportunity to observe species such as the whitetail, the kite, the lantern, the cowhide. Other birds of prey such as the grasshopper (Falco naumanni) live alongside the man and nest under the roofs of the abandoned houses of the Sassi of Matera or under the tiles of the Benedictine abbey of Montescaglioso.
MATERA: THE ROCK CHURCHES PARK
Walking through the paths of the Mammoth Park means stepping into history through caves dating back to about a million years ago and later on, during prehistory, dwelling for men seeking shelter and protection. On the other side of the gravina with respect to Matera and Sassi extends the historical-natural archaeological park of Murgia Materana and the Rupestri churches, an area containing some of the most important archaeological sites of Italy, dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic , as well as real jewels, rock churches, set in the rock. The trail includes the Murgia Timone and Murgecchia’s karst hills, visiting the most important rock churches outside the historic center of Matera. They will feature rich archaeological evidence from the Paleolithic and Neolithic period, beginning with 10,000 years before Christ. Conformity of the land, with pastures and fertile soils, pushed primitive men to settle in this area near the Gravina, and to start sedentary livelihoods such as agriculture, hunting and breeding. Matera is in fact considered one of the oldest cities in the world, just because it has been settled seamlessly in the various archaeological eras. Along the itinerary we will also walk around the places chosen by the most famous international directors to shoot some of the scenes of the movie masterpieces.
MATERA – MONTESCAGLIOSO: THE ANCIENT PATH
This hiking route is suitable for walkers trained on the length of walking (more than 20 km). The route starts from the Sassi and reaches Montescaglioso. A long trail in the footsteps of ancient peoples that came from Matera to the sea, walking half-shore on the right bank of the gravina, which can only be traversed for some stretches due to the numerous collapses linked to the slow, but continuing erosion of the rock. The trail leads to the thick Mediterranean scrub, passes hundreds of grottoes of community monks, peasants, shepherds and herdsmen, enters a holm-oak forest and rises up to the hills surrounding Montescaglioso ‘Abbey of St. Michael Archangel. By-pass the traffic of the city and go straight on foot from the Outskirts of Ofer where we will meet along the way the dagger of Orah, one of the most interesting in the area. Articulated for about 90 meters on three floors communicating with each other through tunnels and staircases that cut the inner thickness of the rock, it faces the peak of the gravina. Our path will then visit the Cave of the Bats and the Funeral Cave, very important natural cavities that testify to the presence of man since the Paleolithic. Soon in front of us will be the Saraceno Village. About sixty caves full of testimonies related to man’s work. Churches, dry walls, grooms, water recovery canals, cisterns, chimneys, stairs, all elements that have as common rock denominator and patient man-made excavation work. Subsequently the path continues to the beautiful rock church of Christ La Selva; a grotesque environment with a masonry façade with triangular pediment typical of Romanesque that emerges from the rock surmounted by a small bell tower. The crypt hidden by the gravia’s overhang is surrounded by thick vegetation. To the right and to the left there are two loggias that embellish the naked rock. Continuing along the tratturo, we go back to the gravina and descend along a mule track until Masseria Passarelli. From here we walk up to Casino Venusio and then arrive, following the edge of the gravina, near a staircase leading to a spectacular system of caves communicating with each other, the complex of Sant’Eustachio. We will continue to meet the Loe Valley. The path goes towards Montescaglioso towards the beautiful Benedictine Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo.