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Basilicata

What to see in the Murgia Materana by e-bike to discover the rupestrian churches

An e-bike tour in the Murgia Materana Park is ideal for discovering the beauty of the area, dotted with rupestrian churches, ancient sanctuaries, tuff quarries in use for centuries and jazzi, the old sheepfolds.

28 November 2022

3 minutes

You can cycle along paths already used in the Neolithic period until you reach a vantage point from which you can take in the Sassi di Matera with a single glance: the view at sunset is incomparable, because while the sun tinges the sky pink and the lights of the city are turned on, you will be enraptured by the famous nativity scene effect that is created.

Here is the ideal route for falling in love once and for all with the Murgia Park on an e-bike.

From the Sassi to the Murgia Materana National Park

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Rent an e-bike in the centre of Matera and venture along the narrow streets that connect the Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso, winding your way through the labyrinth of alleyways: it’s an adventure you won't forget. Then leave the town to walk along the trails of the Murgia Materana National Park. Many of these paths have been known to man since Neolithic times.

The natural park, furrowed by fascinating ravines, is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located a short distance from the Sassi di Matera. Numerous fossil remains have been found here, which can be seen at the Domenico Ridola Archaeological Museum in Matera. An old sheepfold from the 1800s houses the park's visitor centre.

Don't miss the Grotta dei Pipistrelli (Bats' Cave), frequented as early as the Palaeolithic period, and explore the Neolithic villages of Murgia Timone, Murgecchia and Trasanello, all surrounded by defensive moats dug into the rock. This custom can also be found, millennia later, in the area's traditional fortified farmhouses with walls, towers and sentry boxes.

For centuries, the area was inhabited mainly by shepherds who left traces in the rock villages of San Nicola all'Ofra, Cristo la Selva and Villaggio Saraceni, all built around a small rupestrian church with a necropolis. There is also a jazzo, a sheepfold created with dry-stone walls around caves dug into the rock to house the flocks.

The Park of the Rupestrian Churches

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There are over a hundred rupestrian—or rock-hewn—churches dotting the entire Murgia of Matera. They are often hidden by vegetation or dug into the steep sides of a ravine, and are difficult to see as well as to reach.

You can visit many of them, however, and they are almost always frescoed: the Scaletta Crypt, the Madonna of the Cross, the Old Capuchin Church, the Church of Our Lady of the Three Gates and the Canary Crypt are all easy to access. They almost always depict St Vitus, protector of farmers, and St Nicholas, protector of shepherds. Those dating from the Romanesque period are the most impressive. The oldest is the Crypt of Original Sin, with paintings from the 9th century.

The Sanctuary of the Palomba

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The construction of the sanctuary that can be seen today is linked to a miraculous event dating back to 1579. The church was built over an older rupestrian church called Madonna di Cava, which can still be seen in the more recent building. A mediaeval fresco dedicated to Mater Domini also remains.

On one side of the nave are six niches with statues from the 16th century, while on the opposite side there are four frescoed niches.

Near the sanctuary is the La Palomba Sculpture Park. In a tuff quarry that is no longer in use, the artist Antonio Paradiso has created a permanent exhibition of his works, also hosting pieces by other artists. Temporary exhibitions are added from time to time. 

The Murgia Timone Belvedere

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The tour ends on the hill opposite the Sassi di Matera, which offers a spectacular viewpoint over the city.

The perfect time to arrive there is at the end of the day, when sunset approaches and the first lights of the houses come on. As the stars also appear in the sky, the landscape becomes enchanted.

An e-bike tour through the Parco della Murgia gives you the opportunity to get to know and love the territory of the Basilicata region, and you will be left breathless by its incredible thousand-year history.

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