The Sassi di Matera are two districts (Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano) of the Italian city of Matera, Basilicata, well-known for their ancient cave dwellings inhabited since the Paleolithic period.
It have been described by Fodor's as one of the most unique landscapes in Europe. Along with the park of the Rupestrian Churches, it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.
The Sassi originate from a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and are suspected to be among the first human settlements in Italy. There is evidence that people were living here as early as the year 7000 BC.
The Sassi are houses dug into the calcarenitic rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia, locally called 'tufo' although it is not volcanic tuff or tufa. The streets in some parts of the Sassi often run on top of other houses. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the ravine created by the Gravina river. The ravine is known locally as 'la Gravina'.
In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. Beset by extreme poverty and riddled with malaria, the unhealthy living conditions were considered inhuman and an affront to the modern new Italian Republic of Alcide De Gasperi. However, people continued to live in the Sassi.
Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since many of these houses were, and in some cases still are, uninhabitable. The current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the European Union, the government, and UNESCO.References:
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches of Rome. The basic floor plan and wall structure of the church date back to the 340s, and much of the structure to 1140-43. The first sanctuary was built in 221 and 227 by Pope Callixtus I and later completed by Pope Julius I.
The inscription on the episcopal throne states that this is the first church in Rome dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus, although some claim that privilege belongs to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. A Christian house-church was founded here about 220 by Pope Saint Callixtus I (217-222) on the site of the Taberna meritoria, a refuge for retired soldiers. The area was made available for Christian use by Emperor Alexander Severus when he settled a dispute between the Christians and tavern-keepers.
The church underwent two restorations in the fifth and eighth centuries and in 1140-43 it was re-erected on its old foundations under Pope Innocent II.