Casa Cisterna Sotterranea

Useful Information

Location: Follow directions for Via Bruno Buozzi, at the Bar Idris and the Residence Corte San Pietro, take the stairs on the left. Signposted Casa in Grotta.
(40.663778127421004, 16.610873286450666)
Open: MAR to OCT day befor Hol and Hol 10-19:30.
NOV to FEB daily 10-14.
Classification: SubterraneaSubterranea Museum
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Casa Cisterna Sotterranea, Ponte S. Pietro Caveoso, 39, 75100 Matera MT, Tel: +39-348-174-3135.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1952 house abandoned due to new law and relocation of the inhabitants.
1993 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


The Casa Cisterna Sotterranea is an underground museum. Like the other two museums it is actually a cave house which was transformed into a typical underground housing of the early 20th or late 19th century. However, the caves where it is located are more interesting. They actually represent an underground mill, a cistern and an ancient dunghill.

Il Mulino ( The Mill) is a private mill where wheat was milled into flour, but also into cereals for humans and animals. The characteristic specialties of the cave are two pits which are called Fogge. Those pits were used to store grains during the winter. If they were sealed, there was absolutely no way in for rodents. And in the middle of the chamber is the large stone mill. The millstone was turned by a mule which walked around in circles. The grains for the mill came through a narrow conduit in the ceiling from a room above. The mill was abandoned long ago, and the place was then used as a stable. A supporting wall with a barrel vault was built, and the floor paved. There are also the remains of two excavated mangers.

The Cisterna Sotterranea (Underground Cistern) was used to collect rainwater. Such cisterns were built for various purposes. Originally the Sassi were used for stables and for gardens and the water was needed for the animals and for irrigation. Later when cave houses were dug, the people needed drinking water and more cisterns were built for domestic use. Many cisterns are connected, and water which is collected from water bearing layer plus rainwater from the roofs flows from one cistern to the next. Through the passage of several cisterns the water was gradually filtered and purified. To collect the water from the cistern, a metal bucket with large iron hooks was used to pull it up and pour it into the domestic wells. The cisterns were typically bell shaped and made waterproof by coccio-pesto (earthenware-pesto). This is the local name of a reddish plaster which was made by tiles and terracotta which were crushed and bound with lime mortar.

The Letamaio (Dunghill) is similar to a cistern, a bell shaped room where solid and liquid excrements of animals were accumulated. The excrements of the human inhabitants were often also added. They were actually quite valuable, because they were used as natural fertilizer. Depending on the size of the dunghill, the manure was tored for two weeks or more. During this time it not only accumulated, it also dried, became mor viscous, and a biologic reaction made it less acidic, which was better for the fields.

The last part of the museum is a Casa Grotta (cave house). Several underground rooms are filled with typical furniture and objects of daily use. Typical is the high bed with the mattress filled with corn leaves. The bed was high because of the humidity, so air could flow under the bed. There are terracotta containers for food and water. The kneading cup was used for making bread, which was carefully prepared at home, but baked in common ovens. The loafs were marked with the initials of the family with special wooden stamps.