Chiese Rupestri di Santa Barbara

Rock Church of Saint Barbara

Useful Information

Location: Via Casalnuovo, 82, 75100 Matera MT.
(40.658255, 16.616350)
Open: All year Mon-Fri 9, 12:30, 16:30, 18, Satz, Sun, Hol 10:30-12:30, 16:30-18:30.
Classification: SubterraneaMonolithic Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours:
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Chiese Rupestri di Santa Barbara, Via Casalnuovo, 289, 75100 Matera MT, Tel: +39-0835-336166.
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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1993 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


The Chiesa Rupestre di Santa Barbara (Rock Church of Saint Barbara) is considered one of the most important cave churches in Italy. Rather rare is the fact that the facade is not a wall, it is chiseled out of the rock making this a monolithic church. The main entrance even has a massive sculpted pilar on each side. There are two entrances, the bigger one leading into a small antechamber called narthex and then through a second door into the church. There are various columns, barrel vaulted windows, and niches which were sculptured from the rock. The columns at the far end separate the nave or presbytery from the apse. The narthex and presbytery are rectangular and the apse is semicircular.

On the right side is a second, smaller door which leads to a small lateral structure which probably housed the keeper of the church. There is also a door from the nave to this room. Outside the church are ancient tombs carved into the rock, if they are connected to the church is unknown, but likely.

The architecture of the church is probably of the Byzantine, which would place its construction between the 7th and 13th centuries. However, there is no possibility to date the church except for this vague classification by architectural style. The walls are full of frescoes, but they are younger, between 15th and 16th century. The most important fresco shows the Madonna and Child. There are several ways to depict her, in this case it is Madonna del fico, so called because of the fruit she carries in her hand. The child has a rose and intends on giving it to her. Then there are five panels depicting the same Saint with blond hair held together by a diadem, wearing a white robe with a red cloak. With one hand she holds the palm of martyrdom and with the other the tower symbol of the Trinity. Santa Barbara is also shown, but this fresco is of lower quality and attributed to a different artist.