Rock churches of Matera

The Parco della Murgia Materana, also known as the Historical Natural Park of the Rock Churches of Matera, boasts a natural and spiritual heritage of exceptional value, thanks to its over one hundred and fifty cave churches included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1993 Some of these places of worship date back to the Romanesque period and are richly decorated with frescoes and wonderful architectural elements such as apses, quatrefoils, capitals and arches, made even more beautiful by small domes.
Outside the city, in Pietrapenta, lies the Cripta del Peccato Originale (Crypt of the Original Sin), known as the “Sistine Chapel” of rock-hewn churches. The Crypt is decorated with mural paintings of the Benedictine-Beneventan style, dating back to the 8th-9th centuries AD. An extraordinary cycle of frescoes which depicts, among others, episodes of the Creation and the Original Sin.
Many of the rock churches within the Sassi districts can be visited. Santa Lucia alle Malve, located inside a monastery of Benedictine nuns, had been a place of worship until 1283. The interior boasts frescoes of great historical-artistic value. The adjoining churches of Santa Maria de Idris and San Giovanni in Monterrone, both located on a spur that rises from the cave-dwellings of the Sasso Caveoso, have valuable frescoes dating back to the 12th and 17th centuries.
The large monastic complex of Madonna delle Virtù e San Nicola dei Greci, is one of the most important examples of what is known as “negative space architecture” and is used as a venue for prestigious contemporary art exhibitions. It is worth mentioning the Chiesa di Santa Barbara, a rock church consisting of 3 spaces: narthex, presbytery and apse. The exterior features some ancient tombs carved out of the rock.
The Convicinio di Sant’Antonio is a unique example of rock complex consisting of four ancient churches: San Primo, Sant’Egidio (also known as Chiesa dell’Annunziata), San Donato and Sant’Antonio Abate. They are connected to each other by a wide yard, and each of them is richly decorated with interesting religious frescoes.

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