It’s hard to believe that less than 70 years ago there were people in Matera, mostly peasants, and farmers, still living in caves carved out of limestone in the Sassi (ancient town) that dated back to the prehistoric era. Whole families, together with their prized cows and chickens, squeezed into what little space was available There was no natural light, ventilation, running water or electricity. Sickness and disease were rampant.
The extent of the squalid conditions in the Sassi only came to international attention in 1945 when writer Carlo Levi published his book, 'Christ Stopped at Eboli'.
This galvanised the government into action. Forcibly relocating most of the population of the Sassi to purpose-built social housing suburbs on the outskirts of the city.
The Sassi remained essentially uninhabitable until the late 1980s. It was UNESCO’s designation as a world heritage site in 1993 and the filming of Mel Gibson’s 'The Passion of Christ' there in 2004 that really put Matera on the tourism map.