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The Basilica di San Nicola in Bari was originally commissioned in 1089 to house the relics of St. Nicholas

Exploring Beautiful Bari Known as the Bologna of the South

The province of Bari is located along the beautiful Adriatic Sea in the region of Puglia. The province’s coastline stretches from Molfetta, north of Bari, to Monopoli further south. Along this route, nature’s charm merges with the picturesque villages and the precious heritage of imposing castles and stunning cathedrals.

The city of Bari has been a cultural crossroads since ancient times and it is an ideal starting point to explore the province. As the capital of the region, it is an important commercial harbor, tourist destination and the second most important economic center of southern Italy after Naples. If Lecce is the south’s Florence, then Bari is its Bologna, a historic, yet forward-looking city. It is more urban than Lecce, but with grander boulevards, a more vibrant nightlife and it is home to a large and excellent university. It is a city where the old and new collide.

Bari Vecchia, the old town, is surrounded by an imposing wall, crossed by narrow, winding streets that are a testament to its ancient roots. The modern city, built at the beginning of the 19th century, has seen many changes during the last 200 years, which makes it ideal for tourists, with plenty of modern hotels and a lovely seaside promenade. The new town, whose project was planned by Gioacchino Murat, is crisscrossed with shopping streets such Corso Cavour, where you will find the famous Teatro Petruzzelli. It is the fourth largest theater in Italy and was opened in 1903, but destroyed by fire in 1991. There were numerous legal battles that ensued, but the Teatro finally and gloriously reopened in 2009, nearly 18 years after the fire. It remains a vital landmark of the city.

Along the perimeter of the old walls, one comes across the majestic Castello Svevo. This imposing structure was built by the Norman King Ruggero II in the 12th century. It was rebuilt by Frederick II in 1233. He added two of the towers that are still visible today. In the 16th century, during the height of Bari’s glory, Castello Svevo served as a residence for Isabella of Aragon and her daughter Bona Sforza. The castle became the cultural center for the artists, writers and powerful dignitaries that would be hosted by the mother and daughter. Today, visitors can wander through the castle’s inner courtyard, monumental staircase and museum.

A short walk away is the Basilica di San Nicola. Commissioned in 1089, the stunning white-limestone church houses the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of sailors, travelers and children (he is the original Santa Claus), making it an important destination for pilgrims. If you visit Bari during the first ten days of May, you will be find that the entire city honors St. Nicholas with celebrations, processions and fireworks, many of which take place around the basilica.

The Cathedral of San Sabino, while less well-known than Basilica di San Nicola, is Bari’s main church. Originally built in the Byzantine style during the 11th century, it was destroyed in 1156 and rebuilt again in 1170. Its Romanesque style makes it one of the best examples of the period’s architecture in the region. The church was named in honor of Bishop San Sabino, whose relics are still preserved in the crypt. Take a close look at the façade; it features fascinating decorations with grotesque monsters and imaginary creatures, along with a beautiful rose window.

Make sure to leave time to visit the magnificent Fizzarotti Palace. This eclectic building was commissioned by banker Emmanuel Fizzarotti in the late 19th century and boasts stunning interior details and an exterior that looks as though it has been plucked from the Grand Canal in Venice and magically transported to Bari. While walking through the old town of Bari, visit Piazza del Ferrarese and the nearby Piazza Mercantile, once the political center of the old town. You will find each to be the perfect spot for a morning walk or an evening passeggiata; stop for an invigorating espresso or a refreshing gelato along the way.

The province of Bari lies on a fertile coastal plain where the riches of the earth and sea come together. Wide open spaces have been adapted so that even dried-up river beds have become farmland. Olive groves, almond trees and vineyards paint the vast landscape, while further inland is the Murgia Plateau. The journey inland should begin in Altamura, which is one of the only places in Italy that has DOP status for its bread. The town can be spotted on a spur overlooking the plateau, with its duomo’s towers standing out against the sky. In the adjacent archeological site, a vast number of dinosaur imprints have been left across the plains. Beyond this area, one might believe that time has stood still, as the bare landscape is only interrupted by rocks, hollows and ravines. There are few rivers and no lakes. The water is concentrated in the underground and gave rise over time to many caves, such as the famous Grotte di Castellana. Amazing stalactites and stalagmites, scattered along galleries and large caves, give shape to a fascinating and mysterious scenery, provided with an evocative play between light and shade.

The Itria Valley in the province lies only a few miles inland from the coast, yet it is a world away. The valley is home to the trulli and the town of Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains the greatest concentration of these unique traditional dry-stone dwellings. Originally settled 1,000 years ago, some of the trulli date back to the 14th century. The newer portion of the town lies to the east, but to the west lies the original settlement which is divided into two areas: Rione Monti which contains 1,030 trulli and the Rione Aia Piccola, containing 590 of the structures. Today some of the trulli are equipped with modern comforts and represent an alternative to a traditional hotel room stay. While in the area, the old part of the town in Locorotondo deserves a visit. Surrounded by its town wall, narrow alleys run between the quaint whitewashed houses vividly brought to life by colorful floral displays hanging from balconies. Visitors will also find outstanding examples of the trulli in the towns of Martina Franca, Cisternino and Fasano.

Along the Adriatic coast to the south sits the old village of Polignano, which is located on a sheer cliff, filled with natural grottoes and caves overlooking the sea. Its coastline is certainly among the most beautiful in Puglia. The nearby town of Monopoli is known for having one of the finest beaches in the province. The old town of Monopoli overlooks the sea and its high walls only enhance its picturesque location. With its Lido and miles of coastline, it has long been a popular vacation destination for Italians and in recent years has attracted more and more Europeans and Americans. The natural beauty, charm and history never cease to capture the hearts of travelers. Its old town boasts 19 medieval churches and countless cobblestone alleys to wander through, once you have finished enjoying a day at the beach. It is yet another place among many in the province that will capture your heart.