Day 9: Trani-Matera
The La Chianca Dolmen is located just off the autostrada in the midst of an olive grove that is dominated by gnarled old trees….and right now the trees are laden with olives–green, black and many shades in between.
The dolmen consists of three vertical slabs of stone covered by a fourth slab laid across the top to form a roof……there is a “pathway” to the dolmen lined with other slabs. It is believed that they are connected to religious rites of Middle Bronze Age peoples - from between 1800 and 1400 BC - and they are found all over southern Italy.
Many of the dolmen sites are unfortunately trash littered (this one is pretty clean) and defaced with graffiti. We are very impressed by the paragraph written on the historic marker, erected at the site by the Ministero per i bene le attivita culturali. The English reads as follows:
” The Chianca Dolmen, like other similar monuments, is exposed to atmospheric agents and is therefore subject to a slow, gradual deterioration. Adequate protection measures are being worked on, and it is also regularly cleaned of the graffiti and drawings defacing it that seem to be the product of an irresistable desire on the part of some visitors to leave their mark. We would appeal to these people to reflect for just a moment, before their act of desecration, on the antiquitiy and value of these witnesses of the past, before which we are quite insignificant and any phrase of ours is paltry in the extreme.”
We finally make our way back to the main road after unsuccessfully searching for a neighboring dolmen and being stuck on a very rutted, very unattractive trash strewn back road, and begin climbing up the plateau through the ever present olive groves and vineyards. Suddenly, at the top of the plateau, the olives and grapes completely disappear. This is certainly wheat country but with nothing in the fields, the land looks like a moonscape.
The city of Altamura is our next destination….this is the town that is known throughout Italy for its wonderful bread. We circle the city outside the walls (along with many Altamurans) looking for a place to park so we can go into the “centro storico” and get some bread at one of the famous old bakeries. We are finally successful in finding a space, get out of the car and follow a sign from one of the old “fornos” that points through the “porta” to the center of town.
In fact, we stumble on one of the bakeries almost immediately…..a counter on one side with breads and fresh baked pizzas piled high and a large wood fired brick oven on the other–lots of wood piled on the floor for future breads.
We buy a couple of slices of pizza to eat immediately and one of the smaller loaves of Altamura bread to take with us.
We finish the delicious slices while sitting and admiring the front door of the cathedral
Before leaving town, we stop at a food store to buy some supplies for lunch…prosciutto, parmigiano and a local cheese.
Arriving in Matera a half hour later, we find our hotel which is located deep in the “sassi”….a deep ravine below the center of Matera. The “sassi” used to have cave dwellings where the poor lived…in recent years, the area below the town has been redeveloping and, with the increase in tourism–some of it due to Matera’s presence as a movie location–there are many new hotels, restaurant and businesses in this area.
There are two “main” streets that run through the area with lots of walkways and alleys up and down the sides of the ravine. “Main” is a relative term….at the widest point, the road can just manage two cars going in opposite directions. When we pull up at the hotel, we have to quickly off load our luggage and pull the car flush against the wall so that cars can slip past before the garage people come to pick up the car.
The hotel–the Locanda San Martino–is new since our last visit seven years ago. The reception area and breakfast room are on the bottom floor and the rooms are on three levels up the side of the hill. There is an elevator that serves the first two floors but, even then, guests have to negotiate uneven paths and steps to get to the rooms and it is still a bit of a climb to the level of the town. The rooms used to be caves but the walls and ceilings have been finished and tile floors laid. Many of the rooms have no exterior light except through the door…we are lucky to have a floor to ceiling window with a view over the “sassi”.
After checking in, we finish our lunch–Altamura bread, cheese and ham–on one of the terraces of the hotel and then I go out on a short exploration of the town. It is a very attractive, lively town and the streets are full of people even though many of the shops don’t re-open until 5 pm or later. I check out some possible places for dinner, walk over to the Duomo and reaquaint myself with the town.
Later in the afternoon, we join the “passeggiata” around the center, then sit at a bar and have a prosecco and some nibbles and watch the passing parade of Materans.
For dinner, we stay down in the “sassi” and walk over to one of the nearby restaurants–the Zuppa del Re. There are only a couple of other people in the restaurant on this Wednesday night but the staff is friendly and the food is very good. I have a pasta dish with great local sausage and wonderful mushrooms, followed by polpettone (meatballs) in a very savory wine sauce. Diana has a pasta dish called “strascinate” (really stretched orecchiette) with a cream of broccoli and bread crumb sauce followed by a less successful “stracceti” (beef strips stewed in balsalmic vinegar sauce). The very rich chocolate cake makes up for the disappointment. On the way out, we talk to the chef, who used to live in California.
Since we also polish off a liter of local red wine with no difficulty, we are glad that the hotel is only steps away……
Tomorrow we plan to return to Aliano, the town where Carlo Levi was exiled in the 1930s.