Nestled in the rugged landscape of southern Italy lies Matera, an ancient city where humans have lived for millennia. With its chaotic cluster of whitewashed houses that rise up from the gorge on which it was built, the city feels distinctly biblical. But behind Matera’s limestone walls lie the secrets of a prehistoric past that take us way back before the time of Christ.
Matera is a city unlike any other. Perched atop a rocky ravine in the Basilicata region – the instep of Italy’s boot – it feels otherworldly, like an ancient civilization frozen in time. Just by looking at it, you can see that it’s one of the oldest living cities on earth. But there’s an entire primeval world concealed under its cobbled streets.
It’s hardly a surprise, then, that several filmmakers have handpicked this city as the backdrop to their biblically inspired movies; it was the perfect stand-in for ancient Jerusalem in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, for instance, and Timur Bekmambetov’s remake of Ben-Hur. But despite its movie credits, the city’s past tells a story of struggles and secrets.