San Michele delle Grotte

Useful Information

Location: Calata Grotte San Michele, Gravina in Puglia (BA)
Open: Museum: All year Tue-Sun 9:30-12:30, 17-19.
Church: after appointment.
Fee: Yes.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave SubterraneaCave Church SubterraneaSt. Michael Caves
Light: bring torch
Guided tours:
Bibliography: F. dell'Aquila, A. Messina (1998): Le chiese rupestri di Puglia e Basilicata, Bari 1998, pp. 116, 168, n. 20; (Italiano - Italian)
D. Giordano (1992): Il comprensorio rupestre appulo-lucano: casali e chiese da Gravina al Bradano, Bari 1992, pp. 103-106, fig. 9; (Italiano - Italian)
N. Lavermicocca (2001): I sentieri delle grotte dipinte, Bari 2001, p. 20. (Italiano - Italian)
Address: Associazione Culturale "Benedetto XIII", c/o Museo Capitolare di Arte Sacra, Tel: +39-080-3251146, Mobile: +39-338-5678017. Via Fontana, 5, 70024 Gravina in Puglia, Tel: +39-0
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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5th century church built.


San Michele delle Grotte (St Michael of the Cave) is a cave church in the city of Gravina in Puglia. It is located at the end of Calata Grotte San Michele, a narrow lane ending where the city is bordered by the deep valley named Gravina. Actually the town was named after this deep karst valley and the main tourist sight of the town is the Roman bridge across the Gravina, only 200 m to the north.

Along this valley numerous caves were cut into the soft limestone, which were renovated during the last years to make them another sight for tourists. Those caves were mostly used for living, a good idea concerning the climatic conditions of southern Italy. However, during the 19th and 20th century the caves became the home of the poorest and with the lack of any kind of amenities they also became what politicians called unhealthy. The people living here were relocated, the caves were abandoned and fell in disrepair.

Some of the caves were churches, and the most prominent one in Gravina is San Michele delle Grotte. It is considered the first Cathedral of Gravina. Its location is rather special, as here a Gola, a deep gorge, which is a tributary to the Gravina, cuts deep into the city. The entrance of the church is a natural cave which was enlarged to form a porch with large monolithic pillars. It is followed by a tufa staircase leading up and trough a narrow passage into the church cave. A series of five naves and apses, all interconnected, is divided by 14 rock pillars. The cave was dug using the classic room an pillar technique and has a flat ceiling. The central arch is bigger than the others and has an altar. The floor of the transept is a step up and probably once had balustrades and cornices of wooden iconostasis which are long gone. It was originaly lighted by openings called oculi in the wal towards the ravine, which were later expanded into windows. San Michele delle Grotte offers frescoes, mostly in a poor state of preservation, and a statue of St. Michael.

The church is managed by the Associazione Benedetto XIII who also manages the museum Museo Capitolare di Arte Sacra. While the museum is open daily, tours into the cave are available only after appointment.