Outside the church, on the right, a steep set of steps leads to the plateau above the former monastic complex, where the necropolis known as the Cimitero Barbarico is located. This must have made a major impression on Carlo Levi, and inspired him to write his condemnatory book about the appalling living conditions in Matera during the 1940s, where he says that “the dead are on top of the living”.
These are TOMBS from the Lombard era, hollowed out of the rocks. They are of human size, but they seem small to us now, given that man was much smaller then than they are today.
The graves had small notches along their top edge, called the risega, onto which the tombstone could fit snugly.
The Sovrintendenza alle Antichità, the Government body responsible for Monuments and Fine Arts, has had them covered with cement and pebbles to save them from further deterioration, which has also had the effect of preserving their original outline.
Remains of a Bronze Age settlement have also been discovered up here, including the characteristic holes made by the poles that held up the huts, and skeletal parts.