A trulli sassi day in ItalyWritten by Judy Pfaffenberger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Just about everybody loves Italy. However, to be truthful, after short stops in northern Italy in 1971 and ’74, I did not have an overwhelming desire to return until an article in my favorite travel magazine, International Travel News, changed all that. It told of an area near the heel of the boot that sounded fascinating and off the beaten path. This was my No. 1 priority in 2003 when a group of us decided to do Italy, but we included Venice, Rome, Florence, Amalfi and the Cinque Terra to keep everybody happy.
Two main sights in this area are trulli and sassi. Trulli are round structures with conical roofs made of piled-up stones. Hundreds of them can be found around the city of Alberobello. They have been used as dwellings and farm buildings for hundreds of years. In Alberobello, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, more than 400 can be found, including a large church. Just strolling through this area is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. We considered staying in a trullo overnight, but they would not book just one night, so we ended up staying somewhere even more unusual.
About two hours from Alberobello is the city of Matera. In the old center is a section made up of sassi. These are structures that began as cave dwellings but became more civilized as people built additional rooms at the openings of the caves. In the 1950s the Italian government started moving everyone out because of less than sanitary conditions. Since then major construction has taken place in terms of plumbing, heating and electricity to again make the sassi habitable.
In “Lonely Planet,” I had found mention of the Sassi Hotel and Hostel. When I called, I was told that the hotel was completely booked (with a Rick Steves Tour) so I booked space for us in the hostel. The clerk said we would love it, and we did. The hostel was a three-story cave with one level for men, one for women and the third for restrooms and showers.
Much of this sassi area of Matera is still under construction and not too inhabited so we basically had the place to ourselves. It was also October and off-season so there was only one other guest in the hostel, which would accommodate about 30. We ate dinner in a nearby little cave hosteria. Afterward I enjoyed sitting on the terrace outside our door, just soaking up the atmosphere and silence of this unique place.
I did not realize until several months later that this was where Mel Gibson spent several months filming his “Passion of the Christ” movie. These ancient structures served perfectly as Jerusalem, and the natural area at the edge of the sassi, with stone cliffs and cave openings that looked like a skull, was a fitting Golgatha.
The following morning we had time to explore. My cousin, Rick, who was our driver, is an engineer and was fascinated by the construction methods that were being used in these unusual circumstances.
In just 24 hours I had two wonderful travel experiences that will always be very special. I also had the bonus of meeting Rick Steves’ “Italy man” who was leading the tour group. Another bonus was that staying in the Sassi Hostel only cost us 20 Euros per person. If we had stayed in the Sassi Hotel, it would have been 100 Euros for a double room and most of the rooms in the hotel didn’t even look like a cave.
This was a magical 24 hours out of a wonderful two weeks in Italy. I hope it won’t be 25 years before I get back again. More “back doors” are just waiting to be opened.