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Saturday May 18th 2024

The Passion Of The Christ | 2004

The Passion of the Christ filming location: Matera, Italy
The Passion of the Christ filming location: Matera, Italy | Photograph: iStockphoto / Claudio Colombo

Mel Gibson's account of the last hours of the life of Christ adds little to the Bible-in-pictures genre of the Fifties other than the Aramaic language and emotionally bludgeoning physical detail.

Most of the film was shot on the backlot at Cinecitta studios in Rome. Wider vistas, including the crucifixion, were filmed around the city of Matera, in the remote southern region of Basilicata, down in the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’.

The Last Supper was filmed at the rock church of San Nicola dei Greci, and the procession of the cross on the steep alleys of the abandoned older section, Sasso Caveoso.

Matera is an ancient city of cave-houses (known as sassi), dug from the soft volcanic tufa rock. What look like normal houses are in fact windowless grottoes with earth floors, where families once slept alongside their animals. Although façades and roofs were added, the interiors remained virtually unchanged until, in 1952, unhealthy conditions prompted the Italian government to declare the sassi uninhabitable. Nearly 15,000 residents were moved to more modern accommodation.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that a few residents began to move back and renovate the old cave houses. In 1993 the town was granted UNESCO World Heritage status as "the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region”. It’s now undergoing something of a renaissance with a slew of stylish hotels and restaurants.

Matera was seen previously in Pier Paolo Pasolini's vastly superior The Gospel According to Matthew, as 'Themyscira' in Patty Jenkins’s 2017 Wonder Woman and in Bruce Beresford's largely forgotten 1985 King David, with Richard Gere. The town also supplied 'Jerusalem' for the 2006 remake of The Omen, with Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles.

Writer Carlo Levi was exiled to the bleak area by Mussolini for his anti-fascist views, and wrote Christ Stopped At Eboli, which, ironically, implied that not even Christ would venture south into this bleak district.

The nearest airport is Aeroporto di Puglia, in Bari, around 40 miles to the north.

A further 20 miles to the south, the suicide of Judas was filmed at the abandoned Medieval hill town of Craco.