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Looking around Do you know that kids show 'Go outside' with the woman and her collie in the biplane? I took her message very much to heart.

Unconventional Living

ITALY | Wednesday, 8 July 2015 | Views [204]

Two of the best sites in Puglia and the surrounding area are the small towns of Alberobello and Matera. Both are easily accessible by specially designated trains from Bari and both are unesco world heritage sites. Alberobello means white tree, and probably stems from the Trulli houses that lie on the outskirts of town (a bit of a walk from the train station- follow the brown signs). They are tiny white houses with pointed, dome tiled roofs. They are still lived in or used as restaurants and shops. They are cramped but naturally well air conditioned. The locals take very good care of them, just as they do in the Cinque Terre, probably thanks to all the funding from tourists and the like. Its preserved mainly for tourism and theres not much to do except walk around and check out the buildings, but still it's a nice day out. The roofs are decorated with pagan and early Christian symbols. The original settlement dates from the bronze age but most of the buildings still there are medieval. More like huts than houses, they are unlike any other kind of housing I have ever seen.

Matera, in my opinion is even more impressive than Alberobello, though probably not as historically important. Technically Matera is in Basilicata but it’s still easy to reach by train. It is also an example of unconventional living conditions. Matera is a town carved out of rock. Getting off the train there is little sign of anything special. A woman stopped to try and give us directions but gave up half way through and walked off. We saw a brown sign for Sassi and took an educated guess that that was the right way. It was. Below the modern town was another town that looked as if it was emerging half-finished from the rock. There was a big church on the top of the hill overlooking the grey. But this isn’t even really the start of Matera. You have to go through the little lanes behind the church that lead you to a walled road on the edge of cliff. Here you can see the hills that closely surround the town. There were little rocks and caves in the hills and down below between them and the town was a gorge with a little river running through it. The place was full of birds. Little swallows flew freely over the gorge and hawks glided through the blue sky. Suddenly a large bird with a deep orange back that glowed in the sun, most likely a Kite, dived to catch one of the swirling smaller birds. It clawed at one but just missed it. It was like a dragon rampaging the skies.

A sign told us that many rare birds lived on the hillside, even some eagles and vultures. Another sign pointed down the road to something called the Caso Grotto and we decided to follow it. We rounded the curve in the road and saw another group of rock houses. These looked much older and smaller than the others and even more merged into the rock. Again a church sat overlooking the small town. This was truly made from rock, a huge boulder sat on top of it like it had been thrown down from the sky. I’d never seen anything like it. This part of the town was the real Matera. It had been used to film parts of the Passion of Christ film. The Caso Grotto were caves that up until as late as the 1950’s people were using as homes. One was still furnished with beds and a stove, even family pictures and a fake donkey to show how it would have lived inside with the family. Another was called a nievene, which I discovered was a cave used to store the valuable commodity of snow during the hot Mediterranean summer, which in the heat of the day seemed impossible despite the coolness of the cave.

The squashed church on top is called the Maria di Idris. We got a bit lost trying to figure out how to get up to it and ended up walking the long way around. Inside it just looked like another cave. There were remnants of medieval frescoes on the walls but they were badly damaged. They give you a leaflet to explain where each part of the church was but it’s still hard to figure it out. It’s very interesting inside, hard to imagine any congregation ever having sat in there. We sat for a long time outside on the rock just overlooking the town and the hills and the sunset. Watching the skinny cats lounging in the sun and the group of school children climbing the rock and shouting obscenities at each other for fun. At night, back in the main town with all the restaurants and bars, the residents light lamps outside their houses to fill the grey rocks with sparkling light, though sadly in order to catch our last train back to Bari we had to leave before most of them came on.

Tags: alberobello, basilicata, matera, puglia, rock, sassi, trulli

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