Situated in a deep ravine in Basilicata, Matera is known internationally for its 'Sassi' - ancient troglodyte caves cut into the limestone rock face, and used as dwellings and churches since the Palaeolithic era. Historically, this position made the town easy to defend but much more difficult to supply with water. Much of the town began to develop outside the canyon, and the Sassi was inhabited but largely ignored for centuries. By the early 20th century, many of the Sassi's inhabitants were living in appalling conditions, and the area was rife with disease.
Fortunately, the town cleaned this up, and set to restoring the ancient area. The project was a great success, and resulted in the town being declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Over the last decade many of the Sassi have been adapted into fantastic houses, hotels and restaurants - making this truly unique area even more fascinating to discover. Another major attraction in the town is the collection of cave churches, carved out by monks and often decorated with Byzantine murals painted directly onto the rocks.