Italy is the shape of a lovely boot and our next stop was near the heal, just below the spur.
Bari, population 325,000, is the capital of Italy’s southeastern Puglia / Apulia region. Directly across the Adriatic Sea, (a 10 hour ferry ride) is Dubrovnik, Croatia. Bari’s old town is filled with winding narrow streets, an attractive old port and an extensive promenade. Being nearer to Greece we found more Greek history here as well as Roman and Swabian (a southern Germanic people) history. Recently a short stretch of an extension of the famous Appian Way, dating back to 109 CE, was discovered in downtown Bari.
The Romans called their city Barium. When the Saracens or Muslims/Moors arrived in the mid 800’s the city became their regional capital. The Normans next conquered the area in 1071 and Bari became an important maritime center, rivaling the young Venice.
Cattedrale di San Sabino
The Cathedral of Saint Sabinus is the seat of the current Archbishop of Bari-Bitonto. The Cathedral takes its name from and is dedicated to Sabin Canosa, a 5th century venerated bishop (461-566) who was appointed as Bishop at age 52, served until his death in 566 CE, at the age of 105.
The church was completed in 1292 on top of an earlier site that still shows visible traces of an Imperial Byzantine cathedral which had been destroyed 150 years previously.
Amazingly there is documented evidence of bishops in Bari beginning with Saint Maurus in the 1st century.
Called Swabian Castle and also known as the Hohenstaufen Castle, this castle was built around 1132 by the Norman King Roger II. The four corner towers were rebuilt atop the ruins of a earlier fortress that had been built by a Byzantine general in 916 CE to defend the region against the Saracens.
25 short years later the castle was destroyed by King William I of Sicily and in 1233 rebuilt by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. It was during this time that the palace was added. Fun fact: According to tradition Emperor Frederick II met one of our favorite Saints, St. Francis of Assisi in this castle.
The castle was once protected on three sides by a moat and the Mediterranean Sea on the fourth side, but at the present the moat is filled and lush green lawns surround the castle. Today this iconic fortress is often used to host art exhibitions and events.
Museo Teatro Margherita and Teatro Petruzzelli
These theaters were once rivals and the city of Bari benefitted because it now has these two glorious architectural buildings.
Teatro Margherita was built in 1912 to replace an older wooden theater. A theater up until 1979, it reopened as an elegant museum of contemporary art in late 2018. We saw an impactful exhibition about pollution around the world.
“This image depicts 633 soccer balls and other sports balls collected from 23 countries and islands within Europe, found on 104 different beaches by 62 members of the public in just 4 months. It is part of a series that aims to create awareness about the issue of marine pollution by focusing attention on the soccer ball as a single plastic object with global significance.”
“The perfect wave may be a thing of the past. Off the coast of Java, Indonesia, Indonesian surf champion Dede Suryana not only must maneuver across the curl of his wave, but also through a thicket of plastic trash. Arresting images like this one are helping bring awareness to the widespread problem of plastic trash polluting the ocean.”
The striking Teatro Petruzzelli was built in 1903 and is the largest theater in Bari. Operas, ballets and concerts are regularly held in the beautiful venue. Artists like Rudolf Nureyev, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Liza Minnelli and Luciano Pavarotti have all performed here. Unfortunately a fire, set by arsonists in 1991, destroyed the interior of the theater but following years of legal action, Teatro Petruzzelli officially reopened in late 2009.
Bari’s annual Oscar-like International film festival called ‘Bif&st’ is held in Petruzzelli theater.
Basilica di San Nicola
The Romanesque style of the Basilica of Saint Nicholas was completed in 1197 and continues to this day to be a popular pilgrimage destination.
According to legend, Saint Nicholas of Myra (270-343CE) when passing through the city on his way to Rome, chose Bari as his burial place. However when he died, the Saint Nicholas Church was built in Myra and his remains were moved to a sarcophagus therein. Over time a fierce competition developed between Venice and Bari for the saint’s relics. During the East–West Schism in 1054, Saint Nicholas church was declared to be in schism by the Catholic church and history relates that a group of merchants from Bari removed the major bones of Nicholas’s skeleton from his sarcophagus without authorization and brought them to their hometown, where they are enshrined in the Basilica di San Nicola. During the first crusade the remaining bone fragments from the sarcophagus were removed in a similar fashion by Venetian sailors and taken to Venice.
“Saint Nicholas Day falls on December 6th and on this day, clergy of the basilica traditionally lower a flask into Saint Nicholas’ tomb to extract some of the myrrh which is believed to exude from the relics. Containers of this myrrh have been sent all over the world, and believers have reported numerous miracles as a result of being anointed with it.”
Another highlight in Bari for us was when we discovered the famous street where ‘nonas’ open their windows and doors and we were able to watch as they made fresh orecchiette, the ear-shaped pasta, within their tiny kitchens. Tables are then set out on the street and filled with homemade pasta for sale. The shape of orecchiette is ideal to collect the eggplant, tomato, mushrooms and olive sauces and is without a doubt, Puglia’s most famous dish. The crunchy fresh little cookies we picked up were also superb.
Not once but twice, we walked past the busiest shop in town, filled with teens and pre-teens, before we bravely entered. It was a chilly day outside so we ordered the specialty of the house, pink candy floss topped desserts(!!) and hot chocolate. There were large soft teddy bears perched on each table and even larger ones cuddled up next to you on your chair or bench. It was fun, but needless to say, we weren’t able to finish the overload of sugary snacks. Fun though.
May you too have sweet travels,
Saluti from these Barese,
Ted + Julia