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Bari: Historic Beauty and Treasures

Bari: Historic Beauty and Treasures
07/12/2019 ASoulAwakening
Traditional Home Bari Old Town Italy

It’s an early start to a Sunday when you have a 6.30 am flight, and need to catch a bus at 5.00 am to the airport; before arriving in Bari capital of the Puglia Region in Southern Italy.

It’s my first time visiting Italy.

If arriving by plane there are a number of choices available that take you to the centre of Bari.

BARI AIRPORT to CITY CENTRE

There is an airport train service that takes about 20 minutes to the Centrale Train Station. Alternatively there is a shuttle bus service provided by Autostradale that runs every half hour directly to the Bari Centrale Train Station, or a local bus No. 16 that passes through the airport terminating at Piazza Moro. Taxis are also available; however I’ve arranged a free transfer service with accommodation provider at Villa Aurora B&B. For accommodation information click here. A short train ride just out of the city centre with free off street parking.

I have the whole day to roam around Bari’s old city, soaking up its ancient history from Byzantine, Lombard and Saracen eras, and revolts by the Normans. Whilst waiting for a friend to arrive by train from Rome. A walk to the local train station was easy enough; however purchasing a train ticket to the Centrale train station on a Sunday with only a ticket machine was a little more challenging. With the assistance of a couple of helpful locals, I’m on my way.

The port city of Bari, nestled on the Adriatic Sea is the capital of southern Italy’s historic Puglia region. Today it’s more known as a university city and home to the city’s patron saint – Saint Nicholas (San Nicola).

Stepping outside from the Bari Centrale Train Station, and I find myself in the Piazza Aldo Moro and the central Monumental Fountain, built in 1915.

Directly across from the Piazza Aldo Moro is the beginning of a pedestrian only thoroughfare. A relaxing walk through the tree lined gardens of Piazza Umberto I, the largest square in the city.

Crossing over the small lane for car traffic, before finding myself in the Via Sparano da Bari, named after a well-known Bari born jurisconsult responsible for collecting and recording the ancient Roman customary law in the 12th and 13th century.

This well known street is also home to a plethora of high end designer shops with elegant and impressive building facades, including; Pandora, Emporio Armani, H&M, Michael Kors, and Zara. One notable store is the United Colours of Benetton, located in the traditional Palazzo Mincuzzi) with a truly impressive façade and recognizable by a golden majestic dome.

Aside from the impressive shopping options, Via Sparano da Bari has a number of cafés, ice creameries, bars and restaurants. There were also a number of lively street performers and musicians entertaining passer-by’s.

Turn right down the major traffic boulevard of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, towards the Porto Vecchio. Standing proud at the water’s edge is the former cinema and theatre Margherita, located in Piazza IV Novembre. This elegant Art Nouveau building built in 1914 was named after Margherita di Savoia and is now home to the museum of contemporary art.

THE HISTORIC SITES OF BARI VECCHIA (OLD TOWN)

Church of Santa Teresa dei Maschi

Walking along the harbour adjacent the old city walls and following a sign to the cities patron saint – Basilica of Saint Nicola. This charming area of Bari Vecchia (old town) is relaxed on a Sunday with little pedestrian traffic throughout the maze like lanes. I find myself in front of the Church of Santa Teresa dei Maschi (St. Theresa of the Males). The strategic position of the church was chosen by the founding family: the Carmelities, whose coat of arms sits above the entrance doors greeting former parishioners.  The location lies half way between the Bari Cathedral and the Basilica of St. Nicola. Becoming the third largest religious centre and urban mass in the old town. The beautiful Baroque influenced church dedicated to Saint Theresa of Avila was constructed during 1690-1696 and formed part of the adjoining monastery of the same name. The entire monastic complex was then consecrated on 1st January, 1711.

In 1975 the church was abandoned and wasn’t until the year 2000 that restoration work began bringing the doors opening once again for cultural and recreational events.

Archiepiscopal Seminary

Turning left, than right through the lanes and passing a small carpark, I sight the white stone walls of the Archiepiscopal Seminary (Seiminarios Arcivescovile).

The Seminary in Palazzo Vescovile is set against the right side of the entrance to the Bari Cathedral.

Founded in 1610 the Seminary’s design rebirthed the cities Baroque influence. This elegant building is also worthy of noting the 17th century statues of St. Peter and St. Paul crafted by Michelangalo Greco from Ostuni and the 1651 San Sabino steeple.

Bari Cathedral

The Bari Cathedral (Duomo di Bari or Cattedrale di San Sabino) is dedicated to Sanit Sabinus, a bishop of Canosa who’s relics where relocated to the Cathedral in the 9th century. The site of the present day Cathedral was built on the ruins of the Imperial Byzantine cathedral that was destroyed by William I of Sicily in 1156, along with the rest of the city. Evidence of the original cathedral pavement is still visible that extends under the current cathedral nave, as are traces of an ancient church building with an apse, from the 1st millennium. It was during the late 12th century that the residing Archbishop ordered the reconstruction of the cathedral reusing materials from the preceding church and other destroyed buildings.  On the 4th October, 1292 the new cathedral built in the Baroque style, complementing the Basilica of St. Nicholas was consecrated.

The churches plain yet elegant interior walls and twin marble columns decorated with fine carvings is worth seeing, however what is more noteworthy is the crypt below. As you descend the marble stairs the first image you see is an enclosed mummified woman. The bones of Saint Colomba, were recomposed in a display case and placed under the main alter of the chapel dedicated to her, before being moved to the Bari Cathedral crypt in May 1939. The crypt also houses the relics of Saint Sabinus, bishop of Canosa, following the destruction of Canosa by the Saracens in 844 and brought to Bari. The quietness and grandeur of the crypt takes you back in time.

Walking out of the Cathedral, I decided to leave visiting the Basilica of Saint Nicholas for the next day, and enjoy the seeing with a friend.

Norman-Swabian Castle

A short walk, down the winding lane from the Cathedral and I sight the lush green parklands, surrounding the fortress of the Norman-Swabian Castle (Castello Normanno Svevo). The inner walls with towers built by the Normans in the early 12th century were originally built for defensive purposes. Its mighty defence however was unable to hold back the invasion by William I of Sicily in 1156 and saw the castle destroyed. The present day castle was built on the original site by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen an illustrious man, having held the titles of King of Sicily, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of Jerusalem and Holy Roman Emperor during the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The castles restoration was carried out during 1233, highlighting its residential and symbolical aspects. During the 16th century the castle fortress was surrounded with rampart on three sides and turned into a harmonious and stately complex suitable to accommodate the court of Isabel of Aragon (Duchess consort of Milan, by marriage and Duchess of Bari) and her daughter Bona Sforza (who became Queen consort of Poland, Grand Duchess consort of Lithuania and following her Mother’s death in 1524 Duchess of Bari).

Today, one can walk through the courtyard and along the passages whilst admiring the beautiful architecture. There’s also an opportunity to watch a visual presentation in one of the ground floor rooms of the castles history through the years, and is presented in various languages. For more information, including opening times and entry fee, see here.

It’s been a fascinating few hours taking in a 4000 year long period of history. Bari’s ancient history can be traced back to the Bronze Age. From the 5th century Greek Byzantine took and held the power for two centuries; before the Lombards took control and the Saracens holding power for a short time during the mid-9th century. During these and subsequent centuries, Bari has certainly been a centre of episcopal learnings and teachings.

With the numerous revolts against the Byzantines, Bari surrendered to the Normans in 1071. Following the Bari Civil War in 1117, the city continued to retain its position as a bridge between East and West. During the early years with Bari being part of the Roman Empire, with its gateway to the Adriatic Sea, the city continued to provide access to various shipping routes bringing with them a diverse economy including agricultural, textile conversion and clothing industries.

Strata S. Giuesppe

Returning to the boulevard of Corso Vittorio Emanuele through Piazza Chiurlia, I pass an interesting small church, and stop to learn more about Strata S. Giuesppe (church of San Giuseppe), also known in ancient times as Santa Maria de Ioannaci.  Nestled tightly amongst a cluster of ancient homes around Corte Notar Morea, the church was erected on the remains of a previous chapel of St. Mary of Sannaci. The chapel was built around the 9th century by a noblewoman – Romana Dottula, using the ruins of a pagan temple carried from Albania. Evidence across the Puglia region shows that the re-use of sacred building architectural features of Constantinople and other Byzantine cities was a very common practice during the middle ages. It is believed that the original church was destroyed during 1156 battle with William I of Sicily destroying much of the old town.

The two level church was designed using the Greek cross plan and was restored shortly after the 1156 battle. It was again restored in 1583 and later in 1624 and then rebuilt as a convent in 1675. The confraternity of Saint Mary existed until 1609 when it was replaced from the founder to Saint Joseph. Following an air raid by German bombers during WWII, whilst attacking the Bari port and damages caused by the explosion of a wrecked cargo ship containing mustard gas, the church risked being demolished in late 1950 with the proposed urban development.

Borgo Murattiano District

The business and commercial centre of Bari, known as Borgo Murattiano provides a stark contrast to the old town with some exquisite, gracious and grand buildings. It’s well worth walking along the main boulevard of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and down some of the side streets to admire a different side of Bari. This area of the city streets are built in a perfectly aligned grid and lined with 19th and early 20th century architecture.

Plazzo Del Governo

The former Dominican convent and adjacent church was given to the municipality of Bari on 10 December, 1810 by King Ferdinard II. At the time the building needed to undergo urbanisation that was taking shape in the then village of Murattian; now the heart of the new city. Following the renovation and redesign in the early 20th century, the former convent became the Plazzo Del Governo and now houses the hall of official celebrations and is the premises for the office of the Bari cabinet.

Palazzo Fizzarotti

The elegant and stately Palazzo Fizzarotti stands proudly overlooking Corso Vittoria Emanuele. Building began in the later 19th century and was completed in 1905, by the businessman; come banker Emanuel Fizzarotti. The unique eclectic style, exemplified by its neo-Gothic Venetian architecture, is adorned with fine lace stone work. The two decorative towers that stand either side of the building’s façade are both decorated with a gold-leafed mosaic dome, representing the rising sun. The four gold-leafed mosaic medallions featured in the façade are representative of the ‘Phoenician’; symbolising the city of Bari’s old coat of arms, which is the coat of arms for the city of Lecce, from which the Fizzarotti family originated.

Petruzzelli Theatre

Randomly turning right, then left I find myself on Corso Cavour, and in site of the splendid Petruzzelli Theatre in the heart of Bari’s prestigious cultural area. This grand theatre completed in February 1903, took nearly five years to construct and had an original seating capacity of 2, 192. The Petruzzelli Theatre is the largest private theatre in Europe and the largest theatre in the Puglia region and is also the fourth largest in Italy. Arson caused significant damage in 1991, however was rebuilt and returned to its former glory and grandeur in 2009. With this and the introduction of more modern safety regulations, and the variety of performances offered, the theatre can now accommodate 1,482.

Piazza Ferrarese and Pizza Mercantile

The following day, I returned to the old town with a friend who arrived the previous evening. After walking the length of the Via Sparano da Bari, we found ourselves in the Piazza Ferrarese and Piazza Mercantile. Piazza Ferrarese was named after the merchant Stefano Fabri from Ferrara, who moved to Bari in the 17th century and was the owner of several buildings in the square. The Piazza Ferrarese opened in 1612 to facilitate the entrance of goods coming in from the adjoining old port overlooking the Augusto Imperatore seafront. Along with services the nearby Piazza Mercantile that since in Middle Ages has been a major place for commerce and trade.

New urbanisation in the area has uncovered a short section (now roped off) of the ancient 2nd century Via Traiana Roman road that connected Benevento to Brindisi and remained in use during the Middle Ages.

Nowadays the square is filled with bars and restaurants and connects with the Via Venezia, also known as the Muraglia Wall. Little of the 4th century BC old city defensive wall that once provided a safe haven from attacks remain along the seafront of the old city port.

Vallisa Church

The apse of the Vallisa Church – Church of the Ravellesi is also found in an area adjoining the Piazza Ferrarese.  The construction of the church dates back to the 11th century and was named St. Peter from the Benedictine monastery nearby and also in honour of the city of Rome. History shows the first reference to the church named as San Pietro della Vallisa only appeared from 1596, believed to be from the arrival of a group of merchants from the area of Ravello along the Amalfi coast. Having settling close to the ancient Old Port and being awarded a tender to collect excise duties of goods brought into the city. During the year 1777 the church again underwent another change, and was then dedicated to the Blessed Mary Virgin of Purification. A likely reason was due to its close proximity to the street Via degli Infetti, where a property housed victims suffering from the plague was burnt.

Following decades of neglect the church underwent radical restoration in 1962 becoming a Neo-Romanesque style, with centuries of different layers and styles being removed and the rebuilding of the portico, the façade and the three apses. Following further modern urbanisation of the Piazza Ferrarese in 1986 the church was deconsecrated and with the help of the local Diocesan Commissions for Sacred Music was transformed into an important cultural and artistic centre for use by the local community. The church continues to remain and important medieval monument with the old town, built in honour of a community who first appeared in Bari during the 9th century and throughout the centuries remained on good terms with the local population both form a religious and commercial perspective.

Porto Vecchio

Piazza Ferrarese also connects to Porto Vecchio and the seafront promenade along Lungomare, Augusto Imperatore. The sea is calm and many small fishing boats are resting in the port adjacent the aged old local fish markets. You can see the concrete constructed vendor stalls; however I learn that the local fish vendors still prefer to set up their daily catch atop plastic tables and planks of wood, as has been the customary practice since 1840.

Whilst walking along Porto Vecchio we noticed a small red tourist train opposite the fish markets on Lungomare in Piazza Eroi del Mare. We learn that this service is offered by Bari City Tours, for more information click here. We had intended to roam independently, however succumbed to the offer of a small group tour for €10.00. The service runs hourly, so we returned to Piazza Ferrarese to take a break and enjoy a light afternoon lunch before picking up a later tour.

Basilica of San Nicola

The 90 minute tour stops along the old city walls and then we proceed on foot to the Basilica of San Nicola. Founded in 1087 on the grounds of the former Byzantine praetorium this extraordinary example of Romanesque Apulia is one of the major centres of religious tourism in the Puglia region.

The basilica was officially consecrated in 1197 and amongst the interesting details of the façade, is the so named Porta dei Leoni – Lions Gate above the front entrance.

Step inside to feast your eyes up, to the richly carved and gold 17th century ceiling covering the entire nave and the detail painted artwork depicting the life of the Saint.

The crypt can also be visited and holds the Saint’s mortal remains that were brought back from Asia Minor in 1087. A feast and celebrations, along with the re-enactment of the arrival of the Saint’s relics is held each year from May 7-9 in honour of the city’s patron Saint.

 

Our guide leads us through the maze like lanes from the Basilica to the Bari Cathedral (see above) and then guides us to a delightful store just off the Piazza della Cattedrale of San Sabino to sample some typical local products.

There is no obligation to purchase, however after sampling a variety of the rich and uniquely tasting taralli; I leave the store with a packet of this divine Puglia tradition to enjoy for our coming road trip.

Roaming the intertwining alleyways of Borgo Antico our guide brings us to Strata delle Orecchiette where local women are hand making Puglia’s most popular pasta shape – Orecchiette, pronounced {oh-reh-Keyetay} which translates as ‘little ears’ in Italian. The little ear shaped pasta come in various sizes and is used to make a key dish of the region; Orecchiette con cima di rape (Orecchiette with turnip top).

It’s fascinating to watch these women swiftly create this timeless and ancient pasta being made with two basic and humble ingredients – semolina and water.

The dough is kneaded and kneaded into a mound and then when the women are ready to use, the mound is rolled into a snake like length of various thicknesses (depending on the size of the pasta).

The women then skillfully and swiftly using a small serrated kitchen knife, cut a piece of the snake like pasta and in one smooth movement mush, drag and flip out each piece of orecchiette.

Bari Vecchi

The small and ancient Bari Vecchi, with its medieval past and maze of jumbled, twisting and turning narrow cobbled stone lanes, along with lace covered doorway homes remains very much intact and unique to its rich and humble roots dating back 2,000 years.

It’s truly a pleasure roaming and exploring the old town to experience the local culture, be in awe of its important architecture and religious history and to see early foundations where this fascinating city started.

An enjoyable and delightful afternoon and end to our stay in Bari. For now it’s time to arrange a car for pick up at the airport and start visiting other parts of the enchanting region of Puglia.

This blog is part of a series of posts sharing information on day trips around Southern Italy’s, Puglia Region. You can find more information on this region here. I hope you enjoy reading and that I bring some inspiration (if needed) to visit this amazing and magical part of the world.

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Comments (8)

  1. Gabby 2 months ago

    I love you how randomly turn corners and find amazing cultural gems! Watching the Italian women making pasta from scratch would have been fascinating! Fresh pasta … yum!

    • Author
      ASoulAwakening 1 month ago

      There’s a lot to see in this little historic corner of the globe. Yes, seeing the ladies in the homes or on the streets making the ear pasta was fascinating.

  2. Nadia 1 month ago

    Wow very nice city! We spend most our time in the north but Bari looks stunning to explore!

    • Author
      ASoulAwakening 1 month ago

      I’m delighted by what Bari has to offer. I personally am yet to visit Northern Italy.

  3. Slavka 1 month ago

    Puglia is amazing! The cities, the beaches, the ancient sites … and the best of all… the orecchiette! Definitely the tastiest shape of pasta 🙂

    • Author
      ASoulAwakening 1 month ago

      Totally agree with you Slavka. I was delighted by the uniqueness of the Puglia region.

  4. Ann 1 month ago

    The architechture in Italy is so stunning!
    Italy is not on my bucketlist for 2020, but maybe it should be…

    • Author
      ASoulAwakening 1 month ago

      Yes the architecture is truly stunning and very much worth a visit. Was my first visit to Italy. Will see where 2020 takes me.

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