St. Nicholas' city, the regional headquarters, extends half way into the Puglia Adriatic Coast, on the edge of the fertile land of Bari. An ancient Roman site, it was always an important trading town; first the Normans and then the Swabians developed the city, with buildings such as the cathedral. Spanish rule signalled a period of decadence which ended with the arrival of the Bourbons from Naples with whom Bari had a profitable relationship.
The city consists of an old town center, medieval in appearance, situated on the peninsula between the small bays of the old and the new port, and the new town. The old town with its typical narrow winding streets, and the new part which has grown up all around this ancient nucleus since 1813. Here wide and often very long boulevards cross each other at right angles. The old town has all the mediaeval monuments of any importance, like the Swabian castle and the many churches including the Cathedral and the Basilica di San Nicola, which is a place of annual pilgrimage for many people from every part of Italy and from all over the world. The Cathedral of San Sabino was originally built in Byzantine style in 1062, and then rebuilt in Romanesque form in 1170 after the destruction it had undergone at the hands of William the Evil, in 1156.
The Norman-Swabian Castle was begun by Roger II; subsequently it was destroyed at least twice by the people of Bari themselves, who would not tolerate the Norman tyranny. Roger rebuilt it in 1139, and Frederick II rebuilt it almost completely between 1233 and 1240, the Norman structure having been virtually destroyed. Charles of Anjou made some changes in it 1277.
The attractions of Bari are constantly being increased by a large number of annual events which cover many different fields - commercial, with the "Fiera del Levante", an international exhibition in September, and with special displays for Sport, Marble-work and Fashion held at other times of the year; artistic and musical events, and of course sea-bathing at the very modern beaches and camp-sites along the shore of the sea-side suburbs of Santo Spirito, Palese, San Giorgio and Torre a Mare.
Apulia can be considered a prime example of an area with essentially Romanesque features. In this region the Romanesque Age spanned over a long period i.e. from the beginning of the XI to the XIII Century. The common feature of the Apulian cathedrals is the style adopted by the local skilled workers. It includes elements of the Byzantine, Muslim and Longobard Carolingian traditions. Moreover, the use of calcareous ashlars, quarried on a vast scale locally in Apulia, is widespread. Beside Bari, splendid exemplars are located in many towns of the province such as Bitonto, Conversano, Giovinazzo, Molfetta, Ruvo and Trani
A seafaring and agricultural city, Trani occupies a long expanse on its port on the Adriatic. The name is mentioned in the Tabula Peutingeriana, a famous Roman itinerary of the third century of the Christian era. The spreading of the activity and influence of the Benedectines established the predominance of the Latin Church over the Byzantine. Today one can see the influence of the Bizantin Greek in the art the traditions and local customs of the people. In 1063 what is perhaps the first and most maritime code ever published in the Middle Ages, the "Ordinamenta maris" was drawn up in Trani.
The view of the ort with its Cathedral and steeple its polygonal quays bring to mind the ports built by the Crusaders along the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean while at the same time the streets, narrow and tortuous, winding through the old city, evoke those of the Orient and perhaps also the streets of Venice. As Venice gained control of the seaways and the Crusades began for the Holy Land, Trani along with the other apulian ports became one of the principal points of embarcation for the crusading armies and became a major point of commercial and cultural contact between the Orient and the West.
Looking out on the limpid and tranquil waters are the churches, buildings and gardens of the Old town nestled on an outstretch of land between the massive structure of the Swabian castle and the port. On the seafront next to the high steeple, rises the Cathedral of St. Nicholas the Pilgrim, which was called the Queen of apulian Cathedrals, and is certainly one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in the zone. Built between the years 1056 and 1186. It consists of two churches built one on top of the other. Where the Cathedral now rises was once the spot on which stood the Episcopal Church of Santa Maria, in front of which St. Nicholas, the Greek pilgrim, exhausted by his long journey, fainted and fell. He is the patron of the city. Among the other buildings, churches, and monuments of Trani worth nothing are: the unique twelfth-century Church of All Saints, for the sober beauty of its porticoed apse. It once belonged to the Order of the Knights Templars; from the same epoch the cupola-topped Church of St. Andrew, inspired clearly by Byzantine architecture; the Church of St. Francis, also with a cupola, built by the Benedicnes, the church of St. Maria de Russis, now called St. James and the Church of Santa Maria della Colonna, built around the year one-thousand, at the ancient Abbey of the year one-thousand, at the ancient Abbey of the Benedictines in which are still visible the arcades. The fifteenth century Caccetta Palace, a characteristic example of late Gothic architecture, adorned with elegant three-paned windows; the Lambert Palace of the same epoch; Baroque Church of Saint Theresa. On the seafront, on top of a walled-in ancient terrace, extends the park of the Community Villa, with its high palms and long rows of pine trees and ilexes, offering beautiful paths and lanes, lined with flowers, forest hedges and carpets of lush, cool green grass. Beneath the Villa runs a little beach. About two km from the city is another beach, wider and more hospitable, belonging to Colonna where a modern and well-equipped residential center rises, shaded by olive and almond trees.
Resting on a peak rising over background of the Murgia, Castel del Monte, should in no way be omitted from this quest for Frederician castles in the Bari provincial area. 18 Km. from Andria on a hill 540 mt. high and overlooking a vast expanse, it is famous for its octagonal structure, Each of its sides measures 16.50 mt; its geometric harmony depends on the fact that there are eight 25 metre Octagonal towers. It was very probably built as a hunting residence by Frederick II (keen on hunting with falcons) between 1229 and 1249. The Hoenstaufen family - from whom the Swabians descended - had used the octagonal structure for several constructions. This has made some reseachers believe that the Egisheim Castle in Alsace should be seen as the prototype of the Castel del Monte. It is situated on a hill on which there was a Benedictine monastery with a church dedicated to St. Mary of the Mount. It stands at an intermediate point between the Castle of Melfi and the Foggia Royal Palace, where the political and administrative activities of Frederick were conducted. However, following the fall from grace of the Swabians, it was mostly used as a prison - its perimetral, external walls are 2.55 mt. thick and its internal ones 2.41 mt. The first ones to bave been imprisoned there, by Carlo d'Angió, in 1265, were apparently Frederick's grandchildren. Noble families of Andria took refuge in the castle during the plague of 1665. Later, abandoned as of the XVII Century, it was stripped of its marble and sculptures, and inhabited by shepherds and brigands. Recovered by the state in 1876, it saw some restoration initiatives. Stylistically, it belongs to the beginnings of Gothic architecture in Southern Italy, despite the presence of the Romanesque and Arabic-Norman cultures. The eight angular towers perform a primarily static role, dampening the so-called "thrust forces". They are also used as a means of access to the upper floor (via spiral staircases) or to bathrooms and store-houses. About half-way up the entire structure is walled up in a way that reflects the division of the two internal floors, made up of eight equal, trapeze, shaped rooms. Every facade, set between two towers, has two remarkable windows i.e. a mullion (light) on the floor above (except the one in relation to the front and back door), and a Gothic two-mullion window above (except for a three-mullion on the Andria facing side). In the entrance portal, in coralline breccia, situated on the East facade, note the pronounced Gothic influence in the pointed arch, the two lions (held up by columns), the pointed tympanum and the drip-stone overhang, even if there are clear signs of classical inspiration in the Augustan Triumphal Arch.
The fact that the number eight keeps cropping up in the structure has made some people suppose that such an obsession concealed a magic significance. In the esoteric doctrine "8" symbolized infinity both horizontally and vertically, and is also the number of the wind-rose and the foundation number of the universal authority. In Christian symbology "8" represents the union of the Infinite (God) and the Finite (man). In fact, in the IV Century Ambrogio, the Bishop of Milan, introduced the octagonal shape for baptisteries in order to underline the importance of being baptized. Whether, on conceiving this structure, Frederick II intended to link the Infinite to the Finite (and symbolically the East to the West) is only one possible interpretation. There are even those who maintain that the dimensions chosen for the various architectural sections were calculated according to how the sun moves during the year. If - instead of the castle on the hill - there were only a 20.5 mt. tall pole (equal to the original height of the walls before it was altered by the construction of the parapet a couple of dozen years back), then, at midday on Sept 23rd, when the sun goes into the Libra Zodiac zone, the shadow projected by the pole would be as long as the courtyard. Thus, when the sun enters the successive star-sign zones (Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricorn), the shadow would determine, respectively, the width of the castle's rooms, the theoretical circumference delineated by the castle (including its towers) and the layout of the exterior octagonal enclosure, the past of which is much debated. According to another conjecture, the fact that the octagon in the courtyard is not a standard one - or rather, that no one side is the same - does not constitute a worker error, so perfect is the execution of the other parts of the castle. There does seem to be a relationship between the tilt in the Earth's axis and the phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes, where by the values of the courtyard design represent the centrality of the Earth or of the emperor's power. Recently someone put forward the hypothesis that the castle constitutes a medieval re-interpretation of the numerical relationships present in the pyramid of Cheops.
The strip of land in the heart of Apulia, between Martina Franca, Alberobello, Locorotondo and Selva di Fasano, has typical scenery. The Murgia is a calcareous quadrilateral with hills about 400 mt. high, which to the north-east gently slopes down towards the Adriatic and to the south towards the Ionian Sea. The landscape is bare, but not devoid of beauty. The harsh, rocky nature of the Murge gently slopes down into the wonderful Valley of Itria, where the gentle undulating emerald-green plain (in springtime) becomes brown in autumn and fades into ochre when ploughing and the first rain bring out the colours of the fields, cut by low dry walls. In this stony land, farmers have for centuries cleared their land by removing the stones, then used to build dry walls to mark out their fields in a natural landscape enhanced by the white and grey of the trulli. These dry-stone dwellings are scattered everywhere, either isolated or hundled together and their white conical-shaped roofs dot the whole valley. Rain-water does not remain on the surface, but penetrates into the rock and over the centuries, the water has dissolved the limestone and dug deep narrow valleys, ravines, precipices and gorges as well as creating wonderful underground grottoes with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, forming the largest group of grottoes in Italy.
Alberobello is undoubtedly one the most picturesque towns in the world, for it is completely made up of little trulli houses. The famous trullo regio or sovrano is the only two-storey trullo, while the trullo "siamese" is original because double. The trulli in Alberobello are the result of the work of generations of people, who have adapted their physical environment to their own needs. The town is the result of the work of hands, which have tirelessly grappled with this hard land from which stones have been eliminated. The name "trullo" seems to derive from the Greek tholos (dome). The trulli were probably orinally built far from each other, then, in 17th century, they costituted a real town following the donation of an ancient wood (Arbor belli from which the town gets its name) to the Count Acquaviva from Conversano for his fights against the Turks. The count later decided to populate the area. Today Alberobello has 10,000 inhabitants and the highest concentration of trulli in a built-up area (about 1000 trulli). In 1930 these were declarated national monuments. Even the church of S. Antonio on the top of the hill, is domeshaped, with some little lateral trulli and a bell tower in the shape of a trullo.
A stones throw from Alberobello is another important tourist site: The Caves of Castellana Such set of grottoes is the biggest of Italy. They are 3 km long, 71 mt. deep and include deep caves and long underground passages with hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites, which been formed, over millennia, by the erosion of the calcareous rock by water. It looks like a lunar landscape with a myriade of reflections and strange, natural sculptures like those in the grotta nera (the black cave), in the cavernone della civetta (the owl's cave), in the cavernetta del presepe (the nativity cave), and so on to the cavernetta del precipizio (the precipice cave), and at the end of the tour the beautiful grotta bianca (the white cave), perhaps the most beautiful grotto in the world, where nature has created incomparable reflections from the dazzling white rocks. The discovery of these grottoes dates back to 1938 and they can be visited every month of the year; the guided tour takes about three hours. The little town of Castellana, which was first mentioned in X century documents, was long under yhe jurisdiction of the Abbesses of the convent of Conversano. In Castellana there is a fairly well-preserved old town with amny XVII and XVIII century buildings. of the hill.
Going down towards the sea, we find the cliffs of Polignano and the enchanting inlets of Monopoli, where everything is blue. This is the Valley of Itria, a triumph of twilight colours where nothing is violent, where Nature is gentle. Between Monopoli and Polignano there are large fields of lettuce and patatoes. The countryside and coasts of this little town has many gorges and grottoes and it is partly closed in by the Murge hills. Polignano is like a wide terrace overlooking a crystal clear sea, with natural, calcareus arches, where the water is a breathtaking colour. It is possible to visit the numerous grottoes of the area (such as the Grotta dei Colombi, the Grotta della Foca, the Grotta Ardito and so on) and the beautiful Grotta Palazzese by boat. A wide stone archway leads into the maze of medieval streets in the old village, an intricate maze of alleys, white courtyards and terraces overlooking the Adriatic. A little beyond the gateway there is a pleasant square in which there is a church, consacrated in 1295, with a massive, quadrangular bell tower. The Renaissance style prevails inside the church, but the presbetery is Baroque; in the sacristy there is polyptych by Bartolomeo Vivarini (1470), which is the great value. A little outside the town there is the S. Vitos Abbey, with a sixteenth-century loggia and a large courtyard. The convent is similar to a small fort and for centuries life there influenced the sorrounding territory.