This morning at breakfast, it occurred to Becky that not speaking the language meant they we often experienced things more like the locals. Being in a tourist town, the folks at the hotel speak English. This meant that when I ordered my coffee in the morning, I got exactly what I asked for. In the last week, I have often received my coffee much more “Italian style” than “American style”, mostly because I have been unable to ask. So, when you speak the language, you often get what you ask for, but when you don’t, you have more accidental opportunities to experience the local culture.
We spent today alternating between walks around the Sassi and hanging out in our room making full use of the free Wireless Internet. As part of our wanderings we entered a old cave house that is now a museum. The house was occupied until 1958. Because of the 50% infant mortality rate and a malaria epidemic, starting in 1952 the government began relocating the cave dwellers into modern apartments on the outer edges of Matera. Many of the cave homes, including the one we saw, did not have any plumbing. The cave house had four main rooms, one was a living room/kitchen, a workshop, a stable, and a wine cellar. Starting in 1986, many of the caves have been renovated, and are now being used as tourist attractions (museums, restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts).
Walking through the old town feels like you have been transported 2000 years into the past, but there are definitely some modern influences. On the roofs of cave dwellings, you see mini satellite dishes. Scott noticed that there are now sewer grates embedded into the stone roadways. Some of the stairways are old and worn from use; others have are a more recent construction made to look worn. On the older, poorer side of town (Sasso Caveoso) many of the caves have iron gates blocking them. They look like prison cells. As we wandered further away from the center, some of them were open. When you took a peek in, you could smell mould and human waste. It certainly would not be a pleasant place to live or even camp for the night!
Matera is the second UNESCO World Heritage site we have visited – the other being Battle Harbour in Labrador. We have enjoyed visiting both of the sites, and now are thinking we may do some further investigation into the other UNESCO World Heritage sites that we are going to be near. There are currently 878 sites, so we should be able to find a few of them.