Heritage and history – UNESCO settlements to see from Masseria Torre Maizza
29 May 2020
Gazing over the serene Apulian countryside, the aroma of sea salt and citrus fruit on the breeze as cicadas buzz in the undergrowth, it can feel as though time has stopped. It’s no surprise that this beautiful region, with its rich farmland, rolling hills and spectacular coast, has been inhabited for millennia; and indeed, everywhere you turn its long history and rich culture is evident. During your stay at Masseria Torre Maizza, our 16th century fortified farmhouse, allow our Concierge to arrange a chauffeured day trip for you to the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites located nearby, so you may experience the Puglia that came before.
Begin in Alberobello, known as the ‘capital of trulli’, just a 30-minute, scenic drive away and UNESCO listed since 1996. Here you’ll find streets lined with the peculiar, whitewashed conical houses, lovingly restored and decorated with hanging baskets and creeping roses – the highest concentration of trulli in the Valle d’Itria. Built in the 1500s on the order of the ruling local Acquaviva family, these unusual dwellings were created without mortar so they could be dismantled on short notice in the event of a tax inspection. Local legend says some were collapsible by means of the removal of a single stone; it’s a testament to the workmanship that they remain standing today. Wander the cobbled streets discovering little stores, galleries and souvenir shops, stopping along the way. Alberobello’s other claim to fame – its artisans’ exquisite textile work.
Continue on for an hour to the third oldest continually habited settlement in the world, the ancient Sassi of Matera, to discover an even more astounding form of historic dwelling.
Here in the city designated European Capital of Culture in 2019, you’ll discover the Sassi Caveoso and the Sassi Barisano cave districts, famously the setting for Mel Gibson’s controversial film, The Passion of the Christ. These ancient houses were carved into the rock of the hillside and connected with cave systems to create a labyrinthine network in which residents from the Palaeolithic era resided right up until the 1950s, when primitive living conditions were acknowledged and the population moved into modernised buildings.
Climb ancient stone staircases for spellbinding vistas, roam winding alleyways and discover tiny courtyards where flowers are in full bloom.
Both Sassi districts have undergone a serious renovation, with Sassi Barisano in particular now home to galleries and restaurants. At Sassi Caveoso however, it’s still possible to peer into authentic cave homes untouched since the 1950s.
Venture outside Matera and you’ll find yourself in the even more evocative area known as the Murgia Materana, or Park of the Rupestrian Churches. This UNESCO World Heritage Site extends over 8,000 hectares and is home to 150 rock churches, mainly dating back to the Middle Ages. Within their stark, rough-hewn exteriors, discover the ornate frescoes and refined interiors of some of the better-preserved examples, which include the Church of San Pietro Barisano, the Church of Santa Lucia delle Malve and the Church of Santa Barbara.
Make sure to stop at the Church of San Falcione, one of the oldest sites of worship and entirely carved from rock, to admire its original 9th century frescoes, then travel even further back in time with a visit to the archaeological remains of a Neolithic town.
Before settling in for a scenic drive back to Masseria Torre Maizza, stop to drink in the sweeping panorama from the point used to film the crucifixion scene – the stark, imposing hills, deep gorges and shadowy cave entrances have earned this region the moniker the ‘Italian Jerusalem’.