Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

August 29, 2014 Treking through the Sassi


To work one’s way around old Matera is to take on quite a trek. As I said to Tim, “No need to join a gym if you live in Matera.” He heartily agreed. There are ways to get from old town to new without doing the stairs, but not possible to fully explore the old without resigning to the trek. At the Sant’ Angelo I got my daily workout as I walked from my room to the breakfast site.

When climbing the stairs through the sassi I was reminded of a similar ancient site, Cappadoccia, Turkey that I mentioned earlier. While sitting here in my writing chair several others came to mind, Cliff Palace  in Mesa Verde (green table in Spanish), a Native American settlement in the Four Corners for one. The Elora and Ajanta caves in India that I visited in 1986 for another. Then I found myself suddenly rappelling deep into the crystal caves in the Yucatan. A decade ago I had been invited by a friend to accompany her along with a photographer from National Geographic. We were led by the best local cave guide.  One goes very high when crawling through rivers of crystals. Further, I was led to the hermitages of the desert fathers that I had witnessed in Egypt a month before the Iraqi war. From there my imaginal whirlwind tour landed me at the door of a hermit’s cave in the Himalayas. Following such a mind-bending trip, I needed to sit in meditation and recover. The hermits were willing hosts.

Why caves?

Those who live in them or under cliffs are known as troglodytes. Through the run of history there have been very few troglodytes, at least  this is what Wikipedia (go ahead, be skeptical) tells me, but we seem to be fascinated by caves. One need only look at how many have been designated as World Heritage sites or are on major tour guide lists. The fathers of early monasticism retired to the caves in the deserts of Egypt to protect their solitude. Perhaps the important word is protect. By retreating into the wombs of Gaia, one feels protected. Caves can also be beautiful, mind expanding places such as Carlsbad; then, too, they have the ability to call up the scary realms of the unconscious.  I would not consider myself a troglodyte, but in recent years I have discovered a personal penchant for caves. Hm.




The ancient sassi of Matera




Cliff Palace, nestled into an alcove, contains 217 rooms, 23 kivas, and most likely housed 250 people.


While not complete look-alikes, Cliff and Matera appear to be distant cousins. Each a natural work of art. Orginally sculpted by an artist who listened carefully to her intuitive, it guided her in bringing form, exacting how much to stretch or soften the matter that would eventually become one of the world’s great sassis. In the locus of Matera, she gently shifted the material to allow the primordial to have its way in shaping the calcaneritic into the composite sassis that we have been exploring.

Finally, a documentation of my trek from our room to  breakfast at the Hotel Sant’ Angelo.



Down the stairs from our room.




Up the road a bit.




Stairway to the left just beyond me.




A cement railing for the following flight.





Second flight.





Third flight.





Brief respite.





Down a flight.





Another easy flight.





Now the muscles start to feel it.





Beyond the white gate, more to go.






The final flight.





Just a couple more stairs.





Success. Now for breakfast.





Served in an elegant renovated sassi complete with pumped in oxygen due to humidity issues.





Let the day begin.







  1. God bless you with all those stairs!!!!!Oh! the knees…who is taking your pictures? Jim? Love your blog..

Leave a Reply