75100 Matera, Province of Matera, Italy
MateraI am not sure if Matera was on travelers' lists in the past or if it became more of a destination after Mel Gibson' filmed "The Passion of the Christ" here in 2004. But it appears that the city is poised to become a sort of Disneyland for spelunking tourists. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the old cave dwelling side of the city faces a gorgeous arid canyon. The caves were actually inhabited until the 1950s when the Italian government forced residents out because it was an "embarrassment" to have people living in such squalor in modern times. Government high rises were constructed and the former owners were begrudgingly relocated. Begrudgingly because these caves were kinda rad. They stayed cool in hot summers, boasted the first irrigation system in the city and offered membership into a sort of tight knit community that comes from living literally on top of each other.
Perhaps a little out of breath wandering up and down the tight winding alleyways of Matera, the views will keep you going. As much as “jaw-dropping” is an overused cliché, I can’t think of a better word to describe the "Sassi", literally "stones" in Italian, as the caves are known. An amazing, unique Italian destination when you've tired of the cathedrals, quaint hill-top Tuscan towns and Roman ruins.