Another Italian city, another jumble of dusty stone buildings, another tangle of burnished steps & cobbled alleys leading down to an ancient core but Madera is something so really special it takes your breath away. Like a dimmer switch dawn gently illuminates the soft hues of a staggered Jenga of rectangular blocks of houses, towers, steeples & churches. As the sun rises the glory of the place surrounds you.
It is like a giant scoop has been dipped in the landscape leaving a jewel-lined indentation to climb about and explore.
Rome is old, 3,000 years give or take a century or two, and Madera, in the south of Italy, predates Rome as an urban settlement by five millennia. Initially established by nomadic sheep herders who inhabited the water-formed caves that lined a deep ravine lying on their route through this flat, dry landscape prehistoric man developed elementary building skills that enabled them to expand their cave city across to the other side of the rocky gash.
For centuries homes were scraped out of the rock, inhabited by entire families and their livestock.
Byzantine monks created Rock Churches. These dated from the 12th century and at one point some 160 existed as places of worship and living accommodation. The ceilings were created from the rock and in some graves were dug into the rock of the roofs.
Water was always an issue. In the 16th century five huge underground cisterns were created to collect and store rainwater to feed the fountains during the dry summer months. This obe held 5 million litres of water.
This was an area of extreme poverty and disadvantage. It was only after WWII did the national government provide incentives for locals to buy and renovate properties in the old town. Today this higgledy piggledy stack of buildings and alleyways is absolutely stunning.
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