Matera: the gorgeous Italian hill town film-makers can’t resist

As audiences have come to expect with the James Bond franchise, the locations are almost as show-stopping as the high-adrenaline plot twists. The latest, No Time to Die, is geen uitsondering nie, thanks to La La Land cinematographer Linus Sandgren, and the film’s location scouts.

As always, London looms large as the HQ for MI6; Port Antonio in Jamaica makes an appearance, as this is where author Ian Fleming penned many of Bond’s escapades. More difficult to place is the frozen lake of Nittedal in Norway, the wild landscapes of the Faroe Islands off the coast of Denmark, and the Unesco hill town of Matera in southern Italië, where James Bond manoeuvres his Aston Martin DB5 with quintessential aplomb.

Although this may be the first appearance for Matera in the Bond collection, international movie buffs will be familiar with its rock dwellings built into the hills and arid otherworldly surroundings – it’s been nicknamed Little Jerusalem by directors. Pier Paolo Pasolini set the story of Jesus’s life here in the 1964 classic The Gospel According to St Matthew. Die 2003 Italian crime mystery thriller Io non ho Paura (I’m not Scared), directed by Gabriele Salvatores, was shot nearby. And Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 biblical drama The Passion of Christ used the rock church of San Nicola dei Greece for the last supper scene, as well as numerous other locations.

Matera is in the southern region of Basilicata which is one of the poorest areas in Italy, and was hit hard by the lockdown. The mayor of Matera, Domenico Bennardi, a member of Italy’s outlying Cinque Stelle party who took office in October 2020, is optimistic about the attention the film will bring to the city post-Covid (Matera was also in the spotlight as a European City of Culture in 2019).

“Cinema has always embraced our city, now more than ever,” Bennardi said. “From the summer of 2017 to the first months of 2021, we welcomed more than 140 Italian and international production companies, even during the lockdown. All of this exposure also brings a series of cultural, social and tourist opportunities. This means tourism brings advantages and benefits to the whole region, from direct and indirect sources. So tourism is of great importance and we welcome it.”

Restaurant owner Vitantonio Lombardo said he has already welcomed more customers after pre-launch publicity about the Bond film, and that he is relieved his business is improving after the strains of lockdown. “I am really positive the film will bring us more clients.”

Staying in the city is indeed like living on a film set. By L’ Hotel in Pietra, behind Matera’s cathedral, former caves (sassi) have been renovated into cosy rooms(double rooms from €70).

By Osteria al Casale, located behind Madonna delle Virtù, chef Fabio Paolicelli showcases local ingredients with great effect in the grotto-like restaurant in the Sassi Barioso – burrata, grilled octopus and cuttlefish, pizza with turnip and sausage. And Italians all over the country rave with good reason about I Vizi degli Angeli – a laboratory of ice-cream featuring flavours such as lavender, grapefruit and pink peppercorn, pineapple and ginger ice-cream.

For a good overview of the city’s more sombre history, brilliantly captured by Carlo Levi in Cristo si è Fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli), and in the 1955 film, tourists tend to head to Casa Noha, an interactive museum housed in a former palazzo, which details its rise from abject poverty after the second world war to its Unesco designation in 1993.

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