Before going to sleep last night, I had to say goodbye to my new friends because they leave the program is morning and I am now on a very early bus to the ancient city of Matera. Pina and Raffaele packed a little sack breakfast for me and provided the bus schedule. Raffaele said several times, be sure you confirm the destination each time you get on a bus. There are multiple bus transfers so the journey will take many hours but seeing this city will be worth the effort. This past spring, before my trip to Italy, it seemed serendipitous when I came across an article in Smithsonian magazine about Matera, the UNESCO World Heritage site which thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on the globe. More later….
Ok, I’ve made it to Matera and am having hard time articulating what I saw there. Words can describe the cave dwellings but my vocabulary is limited because the environment was utterly new and foreign for my eyes and mind. I’m not sure I even have the correct language to describe the Sassi area. It is made of hundreds of sharp inclines and declines with winding trails and stairs taking you to peeks and depths where the homes, churches and businesses were built into the ground and into the caves. What you see in the photos is only the top of the town, with a large percentage hollowed out underground and into caves. The interiors use negative architectural methods meaning the builders removed rock and ground to create spaces and features such as arches, doorways and columns, the opposite of what we are used to when thinking about building structures where materials are ADDED instead of deducted. In front of one of the medieval churches I visited, archeologists have discovered pottery that dates back to the 8th Century B.C.! Much has been written about it. For more accurate and eloquently presented information, see Smithsonian.com and search keyword Matera (for some reason I am unable to insert the link).
I was looking around for the Barbarian Cemetary, and see those elongated shapes on the ground? I was standing right amongst the buried barbarians! Did you know that the term “barbarian” is what the Romans used for anyone who was not Roman? The barbarians were not necessarily inferior or bad or blood thirsty, they just weren’t up to snuff. And here we have the Church of Purgatory. Mmmm, I’m going to have to read a bit more about this one. A facade of skulls and skeletons (can you see them in this photo?) is not an enticing place of worship in my mind but, as usual, I’m sure there is more to the story.
When I get home, I’ll have to rent the film, Christ Stopped at Eboli which was written about and filmed in Matera, in addition to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, also filmed in Matera.
By the way, Reason #101 to get to the bus station a few minutes early: the bus driver did not have change so he could not sell me a ticket – he asked other people on the bus for change and when that didn’t work out, I had to canvas the area asking people for change for a 20. Another bus driver, who was chatting up some women at the bus station, lead me to his bus and gave me change. So nice! When I returned, my bus driver sold me a ticket and literally pinched my cheek affectionately! I’m not sure what he said but I think it was pretty adorable based on the twinkle in his eye. Oh, and reason #102, we’ve departed the Matera bus station 6 minutes early.
So the return bus journey is going fine. I’ve made it to Senise which is one town away from Noepoli. The only problem is that I have a 45 minute wait and I’ve seen just about enough of Senise. I popped into what is called American Bar, a misnomer indeed. It is the first place on my adventure where I have felt leered at and I’m about ready for that bus to come. The butcher across the street is so sweet (he was in an earlier post with Pina and Raffaele shopping) but he is not there right now.
Oh my goodness, an old man just joined me on the steps and now I’ve had my right cheek pinched a second time this afternoon! Now I’m on the bus to Noepoli and the bus driver is singing at the top of his lungs! He told me to sit in the front seat and it is frightening going through these mountains from this perspective. I think the bus drivers like to chit chat with the person in the front row. I’m going to be a big disappointment which he probably figured out when he said I owed 1.30 euros and I thought he was telling me we would be in Noepoli in 30 minutes and I just kept nodding. When he exclaimed “Soldi!” I finally clued in as I have recently learned the word for “money.” Ok, now we’ve stopped on a winding mountain road for the driver to talk with a shepherd. And here we go again. Now the bus driver is telling me that the shepherd thought I was rude to keep working on the computer instead of talking with them!!! What an adventurous day.
Next on the agenda, the Greek ruins in Paestum (which were part of my art history studies and slide quizzes…we’ll see what I can remember!). Until then, ciao!