THE CAVES OF MATERA, ITALY -- FROM PALEOLITHIC TO PRESENT
Story from Smithsonian February 2014 issue tells of the caves of Matera, Italy. First occupied in the Paleolithic Age, the natural caves were gradually burrowed deeper and expanded into living spaces by peasants and artisans throughout the classical and medieval eras. Today, these underground residences are being rehabilitated by Italians and staying in one of the Sassi's cave hotels has become one of Europe's most exotic new experiences.
Matera, is one of the oldest living cities in the world in terms of continuity, urban planner Antonio Nicoletti told the author of the article. "You can find older cities in Mesopotamia, but they have not been occupied in modern times. Where else can you sleep in a room that was first occupied 9,000 years ago." Estimates of the earliest occupation of the site vary but archaeologists have found artifacts in local caves dating to the Neolithic period and even earlier. Not long ago the Sassi's were a pit of poverty but that is all changing. Now you can "imagine Paleolithic people coming here to find these caves near fresh water, flowers, wild game," says De Ruggieri who purchased a ruined mansion on the fringe of the Sassi "for the price of a cappuchio."
The abandoned architectural treasures within the caves included many rock-hewn churches, covered with priceless Byzantine frescoes. The group that is rehabilitating the caves has identified over 150 cave churches, some of which had been turned into stables by shepherds including one majestic Byzantine-era cavern now known as the Crypt of Original Sin which has been dubbed the Sistine Chapel of rupestrian art.
You can google "The Cave Dwellers" in Smithsonian Magazine for the full article and the stunning photos.