Matera is one of the two provinces of Basilicata. Overlooking the Ionian Sea to the east, it borders with the Apulia Region to the north, the Province of Potenza to the west, and Calabria (Province of Cosenza) to the south.
Geographically, it is divided into two parts: a plains area (Metapontino) and a hilly area (Matera), where the climate is colder than on the plain, often snowing during winter.
The Province includes two wildlife national parks: the San Giuliano National Park, including the artificial lake bearing the same name, an important area for bird nidification; and the Pantano of Policoro Woods, a WWF Oasis.
Also in this territory are the environmental-monumental zone of the Calanchi (Badlands, clay formation deeply eroded by the water, creating furrows, crevices, pointed crests and small valleys), the Natural Park of Gallipoli Cognato – Small Dolomites of Lucania, and a small portion of the National Park of Pollino. And, saving the best for last, Matera's SassiMatera: The Sassi and Rupestrian Churches are enchanting to all: houses stacked one on top of the other and united by tortuous roads and wide staircases, they are literally built inside the rock and mountain tuff. Such a wonder led to the Sassi's being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
Apart from the houses, the architectural landscape spans a number of churches, themselves dug into the rocks as well. The little rupestrian Church of Santa Lucia delle Malve, founded by a Benedictine community around the 8th Century, is worth a visit, as well as the Church of the Madonna of Idris, leading to the crypt of San Giovanni in Monterrone, or the four rupestrian churches of the Convicinio of Sant'Antonio.
Matera's Romanesque Duomo was built in 1268-70. Palazzo Lanfranchi, rather, harks back to the city's 17th-Century architecture, while various museums include the Domenico Ridola National Archaeological Museum, the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture of Matera (MUSMA).
The coast fronting the Ionic Sea, the only plains area of the Province, is rich in archaeological ruins, given that it was one of the main centres of Magna Graecia. In particular, the archaeological area of Metaponto deserves a visit, with ruins that include the temple in Doric-archaic style, dedicated to the goddess Hera, called Tavole Palatine; the Temple of Apollo in Doric style; the Ionic temple dedicated to Aphrodite, built around 470 B.C, the ancient agora and theatre; and the National Archaeological Museum of Metaponto, a trove boasting many more archaeological finds.
The last stop is Policoro, with its Castle, Archaeological Park with yet more Greek ruins, and the National Museum of Siritide.
The cuisine of Matera has much in common with the nearby Region of Apulia: orecchiette (ear-shaped handmade pasta) prepared with fresh tomato or with turnip tops, broccoli, cauliflower or with breadcrumb and sultana grapes.
In this Province, peperoncino (hot pepper) is widely used (as in Calabria) and goes by at least three different names: diavulicchiu, frangisello, and cerasella.
Another typical dish is the cotto di fichi (cooked figs), a kind of cream made with boiled and dried figs. (The dish changes slightly if using prickly pears instead of figs.) The local Cardoncello mushroom is cooked in different ways or eaten raw with ricotta cheese, lemons and olive oil from Murgia of Matera.
Matera has many wildlife reserves, ideal for excursions in the discovery of the lush vegetation and rich local fauna: trekking trips, cycling and horseback riding.