Bari turned out to be a lovely place, I thought, contrary to some reports I had gotten. The Old Town was cram packed with churches and historic buildings, but the pretty old streets and the people were the main attraction. The walk to Old Town along the Adriatic was pleasant, and not far from my hostel. There was not a cloud in the sky, unlike what we had experienced in Tuscany. Still, later that day it did cloud up some. Fishermen were selling their catch, which included octopus.
I first explored the Basilica of San Nicola (Father Christmas) whose remains had been stolen by the local fishermen from the Turks in 1087. The church is huge and has a large crypt where a Mass was being held. At its conclusion, parishioners came forward to kiss the marble coffin of San Nicola. The church had many beautiful things to see.
I moved on to the Cathedral of Bari, wandering the small streets and interacting with the people, poking into markets and shops. This building was also huge and beautiful, but frustrating since signs said there were 5th C mosaics and other things, none of which I could find. So it goes. One woman was cleaning her shutters, another was talking to a neighbor across the way until I clicked her photo, when she greeted me warmly; a monk and two nuns were on their way to the Cathedral—how about those sunglasses!
Eventually I came upon a restaurant (one of many) that looked good. For linner I had mussels, then spaghetti with seafood (this is the place for seafood, I see) and good local Puglia white wine. The waitress was quite bossy—she objected when I asked for olive oil, as she thought I was going to put it on the mussels. When I explained that I wanted it for my bread, then she brought it. I also wanted to order a whole bottle of wine as I planned to drink half and take the rest back to the hostel for an evening treat with my roommates. No, she brought me a half bottle—OK.
Saturday I walked to the Castello Svevo, which is on the edge of Old Town. It was built by the Normans over the ruins of a Roman fort; then the Prussian, Frederick the Great, built over the Norman Castle, incorporating two large Norman towers that are still there. The Spaniards put their stamp on it in the 16th century when they made it into a magnificent residence. Even throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, modifications were made.
Continuing on, I poked around in some churches—no shortage of those. Then there were lots of people talking across the street, wheeling babies, and going about their daily life. I walked to the train station to see about a train to Barletta for the next day. On the way I passed a pretty, old world theatre that was presenting the opera, “Rigoletto” the night after I was leaving—too bad!
Sunday, I took the train to Barletta, a town not far down the coast from Bari. I had a reservation at a B & B, but a mix-up had occurred and they didn’t get it from Hostelworld. The desk clerk found another B & B for me, not far away, and after much telephoning and discussing, and walking, I was finally ensconced in a private room.
I visited the Palazzo della Marra e Pinacoteca De Nittis before I had linner, as I saw that it wasn’t open the next day. The building, itself, was worth seeing—very elaborate, having once been owned by the Orsini family. De Nittis (also the name of my B & B) was an Italian painter born here in Barletta who became pretty famous as a ‘Parisian’ Impressionist. He died at the height of his career of consumption. He was pictured smoking a cigarette. Speaking of which, smoking in southern Italy is rampant—almost everybody smokes!
I had the most remarkable olives for antipasta for linner. They were gigantic! I followed that up with spaghetti carbonnera, which was very good.
Luckily I had gotten a map of Barletta from my B & B lady, so I could find my way back to my room. Barletta is a pleasant small town.
I spent much of the next day exploring it, starting with the Curci Theatre, with busts of the Italian opera composers on its facade. I walked on to the Basilica of San Sepolcro, originally built in the 12th century, but rebuilt and added to in subsequent centuries. Still, there were some 13th and 14th century frescos, and an 1184 Eucharist. This church figured prominently in attracting pilgrims during the Crusades. In front of it was the not-so-colossal-Colossus from the early Middle Ages. The identity is unknown and there are many myths about it—‘it washed up from the sea,’ etc. It is about 16 feet tall and cast of bronze. It does make a dramatic punctuation mark for the church.
I visited the Cathedral, called the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore, which was also started in the 12th century, but was built upon ruins going back to pre-Roman times. Under the cathedral (you can visit this) are excavations of burial caves dating to the 3rd-1st C. BCE. Many of the churches have been built on top of existing older churches or temples but these are quite well preserved and accessible. It is interesting to see that they have preserved many of the old decorations, incorporating them into the newer (16th C) façade.
In the Cathedral they were preparing for a wedding with lots of flowers throughout that huge cavern of a building. Later when I walked past it again, the wedding was in progress, and I stole into the very back of the church and using my long lens, took a photo of the ceremony. Don’t worry, nobody knew I was even there, as I was a block away from the ceremony in progress way down in front by the altar!
Barletta has a castle, too (doesn’t everybody?!) It is beautifully situated, as they all are, overlooking the Adriatic. It wasn’t open since this was Monday, but the interiors are not usually so interesting, anyway.
I walked down to the port—of course it has a 18th C. gate, too, and looked in on the swimmers in the Adriatic. Today was the first day in several weeks that I was completely comfortable in a short-sleeved tee shirt—perfect weather.
Coming back, I stopped in at the Chiesa di Sant’Andrea, (1162), which had a wonderful 17th C. altar, and a very old John the Baptist statue. I will spare you the details of other churches that I poked my head into—many were closed and some were not all that interesting. Still, walking around this charming small city was great! And Barletta gets good marks for posting signs in Italian and English explaining the history/significance of each church, palace, or landmark.
I had linner in the same place as the day before, but got no olives, maybe because I ate so many of them the day before! I shall take the train back to Bari later this morning, and then get a bus or train to Alberobello.