The UNESCO hill town of Matera in southern Italy, where James Bond skilfully manoeuvres his Aston Martin DB5, is top of the list for many location hunters.
Matera may be making its first appearance for the Bond franchise, but its no newcomer to the film scene. Directors named it Little Jerusalem for its recurring appearance as the city’s doppelganger.
Pier Paolo Pasolini set the story of Jesus’s life here in the 1964 classic The Gospel According to St Matthew. The 2003 Italian crime mystery thriller Io non ho Paura (I’m not Scared), directed by Gabriele Salvatores, was shot nearby. And Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 biblical drama The Passion of Christ used the rock church of San Nicola dei Greece for the last supper scene, as well as numerous other locations.
Matera is in the southern region of Basilicata. One of the poorest areas in Italy, it was hit hard by the lockdown. The mayor of Matera, Domenico Bennardi is optimistic about the attention the film will bring to the city post-Covid.
“Cinema has always embraced our city, now more than ever,” Bennardi told The Guardian. “From the summer of 2017 to the first months of 2021, we welcomed more than 140 Italian and international production companies, even during the lockdown. All of this exposure also brings a series of cultural, social and tourist opportunities. This means tourism brings advantages and benefits to the whole region, from direct and indirect sources. So, tourism is of great importance and we welcome it.”
Matera may be the world’s third-longest continuously inhabited human settlement. The natural caves were home to settlers around 7000 years ago. Since then, more elaborate structures have been built above them.
A troglodyte settlement, the Sassi (caves) and the Park of Rupestrian Churches of Matera are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Comprising a complex of houses, churches, monasteries and hermitages built into the natural caves of the Murgia, it covers an area of 1,016 ha.
Still intact, it contains more than a thousand dwellings, hotels and a large number of shops and workshops.
As Lonely Planet says, “Today, looking across the gorge to Matera’s huddled sassi, it seems you’ve been transported back to the ancient Holy Land”.