View of the Sassi di Matera from Belvedere Murgia Timone; in the foreground is the canyon of the stream Torrente Gravina (Source: Isabella Banfi, 2022).
A Hidden Water-Harvesting System: The Sassi di Matera





The water-harvesting system of the ancient Sassi di Matera, in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, represents a clever way of living with water in an arid climate. The terrain, with its soft rocks (Calcarenite di Gravina), provided the foundation for the water-harvesting system that shaped the cave dwellings of Sassi physically, socially and culturally. People caught, guided and stored water in private and public spaces, mostly underground, ensuring its availability for all. In 1993 UNESCO declared the cave village a World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the water-harvesting system of Sassi di Matera is no longer functioning. Its historic ingenuity is not as visible as the system deserves and its cultural and social values are almost forgotten. Using layered visual analysis – the illustrative method – knowledge can be collected and communicated in drawings to get insight regarding more resilient, circular, and people-related approaches (Bobbink, Chourairi and Di Nicola 2022). This article and the included drawings focus on the water system’s value, from which we can learn today.

How to Cite

Bobbink, I., Gao, W., & Banfi, I. (2023). A Hidden Water-Harvesting System: The Sassi di Matera . Blue Papers, 2(2).





methodologies and case studies

Author Biographies

Inge Bobbink, Delft University of Technology

Inge Bobbink is Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment at TU Delft. Her current research focuses on identifying landscape architectonic and sustainable values in traditional water systems worldwide. The goal is to use the acquired knowledge to transform today’s water systems into site-specific circular designs.

Wenting Gao, Delft University of Technology

Wenting Gao is a graduate student in the master’s degree track in Landscape Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment at TUDelft. Her graduation project is about the circular water system and water identity in Matera.

Isabella Banfi, Meccano, Delft

Isabella Banfi is a landscape architect and architect and focuses her work on blending the two disciplines so they can mutually influence each other to define a “built landscape” that has a positive impact on the environment. She graduated with a degree in Landscape Architecture from the Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment of TU Delft and in Architecture at the Polytechnic of Milan. She joined Mecanoo in 2019, where she works mainly on public spaces interconnected with public buildings, with a strong focus on ecology.


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