Things to Do in Puglia
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Castel del Monte was built in the latter half of the 12th century by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. At this time his realm stretched across much of southern Italy, and he was also responsible for the Castello Normanno-Svevo in Bari, the region’s biggest city, as well as a series of hunting lodges across his domain. Sitting on a remote hillock among endless undulating plains, Castel del Monte is regarded as a masterpiece of medieval architecture, taking its influences from both Classical and Islamic building styles. Perfectly octagonal in shape, it is constructed around a courtyard and boasts a series of octagonal towers. Internally, it comprises two stories containing eight rooms in each, and although the rich furnishings and much of the decoration are long gone, the marble moldings around the great entrance doorway and the lack of fortifications suggest that the castle may have been a private residence rather than for military purposes.
Piazza del Ferrarese is a public square in the historic part of Bari, not far from the city's waterfront. There are two large squares in Bari's Old Town, known as Barivecchia: Piazza del Ferrarese and Piazza Mercantile, which connect to one another. The former was named for a 17th-century merchant from Ferrara who once lived there.
This part of Bari is newly redeveloped, making it more enticing for visitors, and the businesses lining both squares are part of that effort. Piazza del Ferrarese is surrounded by bars, restaurants, and shops, not to mention that there is part of an ancient Roman road in the middle of the square.
Bari is the capital city of Puglia in southern Italy and over its years as the most important port on the Adriatic it acquired a rich and varied architectural legacy. Chief among these is the landmark grandeur of the Basilica di San Nicola in Barivecchia, the centro storico that lies at the heart of the modern city. Some 150 years in the making, the cathedral was completed in 1197, when Bari was under Norman rule; it is a fine example of Puglian-Romanesque architecture with a squat, austere and simple façade. Inside there’s a fine mosaic floor, clearly showing Turkish influence, plus a fine altar and a carved 12th-century stone bishops’ throne, supported by comedic sagging figures.
In addition to its present-day Baroque beauty, Lecce has a long history stretching way back over 2,500 years. Nowhere is this legacy better seen than in the Roman amphitheater that forms the southern side of the town’s central Piazza Sant’Oronzo. The horseshoe-shaped theater dates from the second century BC, and although discovered in the early 1900s, it was only excavated in 1938. It lies well below the current street level, and more than half of it remains covered by the rubble of earthquakes and centuries of over-building.
It is estimated that when it was in its original state, the amphitheater was five stories high, could seat 25,000 spectators and was the scene of many gruesome gladiatorial conflicts guaranteed to entertain the legions of Roman soldiers billeted in the region. Beneath the arena, the pens that once housed the wild animals, prisoners and slaves can clearly be seen among the ruins.
The glories of Puglia’s lovely town of Lecce came into being in the 16th and 17th centuries, when peace in the region enabled religious orders and wealthy benefactors, including Emperor Charles V, to transform the town from sleepy backwater to the Baroque gem of southern Italy. The glorious centerpiece of all this gorgeousness is undoubtedly the Basilica di Santa Croce, a swirling mass of ornate Baroque patterning crawling with garlands, statuary, mythical beasts and gargoyles, all fronted with a colonnaded façade that is dominated by a vast rose window.
Work began on this madcap architectural frippery in 1549 on the site of an earlier Celestine monastery, and the basilica was finally consecrated in 1695. Three generations of architects worked on the construction over the decades, with the most notable being Giuseppe Zimballo –better known as Lo Zingarello (the gypsy) – who was the star Puglian architect of the period.
More Things to Do in Puglia
Bari is the main city of southern Italy and a major ferry port. From here people travel to Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. The old town is typically winding and narrow, but the rest of the city is laid out in an elegant 19th century grid with a seafront promenade, and now also has a modern business center of glass skyscrapers located in the suburbs.
The medieval old town, Barivecchia, has in recent years been won back from petty criminals and is these days a thriving hub for nightlife, pubs and clubs abounding, much to the annoyance of those who like life a bit quieter. The cruise ship terminal is right in the heart of Bari and an easy 20 minute walk to Barivecchia, the old town. Alternately, there is a local bus which stops right outside the port terminal, or taxis and a shuttle bus.
The town of San Giovanni Rotondo is in the northern part of Puglia, on the Gargano Peninsula that sticks out into the Adriatic Sea like the spur on Italy's boot.
San Giovanni Rotondo is small, and may not be on the tourist radar for anything other than a place to stay when exploring the Gargano Peninsula – except for one famous former resident. The beloved priest, Padre Pio, lived in this town for much of his adult life. He is revered through much of Italy, and since he died in 1968 the town has become a pilgrimage site. This only increased when he was made a saint in 2002.
The main sight in San Giovanni Rotondo now is the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church, built in 2004. The huge church can seat 6,500 people inside, and has space for a full 30,000 more to stand outside. The church sits in front of a large hospital that was founded by Padre Pio, who is now known as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.
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- Things to do in Lecce
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