Complesso Rupestre San Giorgio Matera


audio and description

In this space, which was once intended to be the sanctuary of the ancient Church of San Giorgio, you can see, on the left side of the cave as you turn towards the back wall, a recess corresponding to the transformation of the cave into a cellar. It was used for placing the barrels on a special supporting wall where the wine would settle until it was ready to be stored.

On the back wall, at the location of the apse lunette of the ancient church, you can see the entrance to the staircase that leads to the final chamber. Nine steps with a concave shape, designed to facilitate the sliding of the barrels, lead to a cool and constant temperature environment.

On the walls of the staircase, both on the left and right sides, there are niches that were used to place lamps. On the lintel of the entrance to the last room, facing outward, you can see a stylized graffiti of a chalice and a host, the emblem of the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament, who owned the property until January 20, 1708. Above the chalice, to the left and right, there seems to be an inscription of a date, 1717.
In the last chamber on the left, you can see the wall for suspending the barrels, a single block of stone “spared” during the excavation of the chamber. This is a typical example of the so-called negative architecture that characterizes the spaces in the Sassi, where construction is done by material subtraction rather than addition. On the right side, there are typical signs of stone extraction that slowly made a symmetric and identical suspension wall on the left side disappear completely. This extraction activity, aimed at recovering the necessary construction material on-site, also affected a portion of the floor when the cellar fell out of use. On the back wall, there is the typical niche used for housing the vessels needed for wine transfer.
The inclination of the excavation was related, among other things, to the lighting needs, as it allowed sunlight to penetrate to the back, facilitating ventilation. It is possible that the excavation itself was carried out following the projection of the sun on the back wall. In winter, the sun reaches its lowest point on the horizon, and the excavation was functional for storing the emitted heat. In summer, on the other hand, the sun is higher, so it couldn’t reach the back wall of the hypogea, whose end remained cool and damp. The multi-level niche, often sculpted as in our case on the back wall of these excavations, may have functioned as a sundial, following the solar movements throughout the year. This created an environment that maintained a constant temperature of about 12°C throughout the year, a necessary condition for proper wine preservation.