More people are discovering the magic of Matera. Once regarded as the shame of Italy, in a short period of time the city transformed itself into a cultural gem in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. Yet despite its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the European Capital of Culture in 2019 and serving as a backdrop for huge Hollywood blockbusters in recent years, Matera is still relatively unknown.
There’s no shortage of sweeping cinematic views throughout Matera. The city is distinguished by its sassi cave dwellings that are carved into the side of the rocky limestone cliffs. Today Matera still feels frozen in time, which makes it such an interesting place to explore its network of interconnected stony stairways, alleyway, streets and terraces. And for those who are looking to venture out beyond the sassi, a hike to the nearby Belvedere Murgia Timone is another great way to experience this magical destination.
How to Get There
The belvedere is a panoramic viewpoint located across the 200-meter-deep gorge formed by the Torrente Gravina. It’s situated within Parco della Murgia Materana, an 80-square-kilometer protected wildlife park pockmarked with prehistoric caves and more than 150 chiese rupestri (rock churches). The park is a place where nature meets archeology dating back to Paleolithic and Neolithic times and provides some of the most incredible views back towards Matera’s sassi. From Matera, the access point for the trail to the belvedere (numbered 406) begins at the parking lot near the Santa Lucia e Agata alla Civita convent along Via Madonna delle Virtù. Alternatively, the viewpoint is also accessible by car via a 15-minute drive from Matera on SS7.
On the Trail
We decided to get an early start and set out around 9:00am on a sunny August morning. The trail is 1.84 kilometers (about 1.14 miles) each way, which takes about 2 hours round trip plus extra time to explore. The initial descent from the parking lot is very steep and a bit slippery at times, but becomes much easier as you reach the bottom of the gorge to cross the Ponte Tibetano della Gravina suspension bridge.
From here the path zig zags up the side of the canyon, which if you start early enough in the morning will be mostly in the shade. The views were incredible along the way, and even more so when we reached the belvedere. It was a Sunday on the day of our hike, so we were also treated to the sound of church bells ringing at regular intervals as we made our way to the top.
Fittingly, the belvedere was also the location where the crucifixion scene of the 2004 Mel Gibson-directed movie The Passion of the Christ was filmed. From this vantage point, the panoramic expanse of Matera and the surrounding area were definitely worth the effort. We also ventured over to the nearby Chiesa Rupestre di Madonna delle Tre Porte before making our way back to Matera. The return trip felt much quicker and easier (thankfully), even though we were now in full midday sun. For those with more time, there are a handful of other paths throughout the park that lead to various rock churches, as well as the Neolithic village of Murgia Timone.
Also Good to Know
The trail is walkable year-round, but preferably not in the rain as the steep and rocky path can become very slippery. Regardless, good shoes are a must, as well as sun protection and plenty of water. And since trail offers little shade and is in direct sun during most of the day, it’s best to start your hike early to avoid the heat of the afternoon, especially during summer months.