Apulia is the region that forms the heel of the Italian boot. You will find It in the southeast corner of Italy on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Apulia was subject to frequent invasion by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Its many rulers included the Byzantines, Goths, Lombards, Normans, Spaniards, and Turks. Its period of greatest glory was during the Holy Roman Empire of the 13th Century, when its majestic Romanesque cathedrals and palaces were erected. This article presents the western and usually northern part of Apulia. A companion article presents the rest of the region.
Apulia’s administrative center is Bari, the biggest city in southern Italy, with a population of over 325 thousand. It is a major port with a modern city center including the Piazza della Liberta’ (Freedom Plaza) and a citta vecchia (old town) that you should visit. Everywhere you turn you can see the Adriatic Sea. The pedestrian-only street Via Sparano is the site of evening strolls. The nearby Eleventh Century Bascilica di San Nicola is said to contain the remains of St. Nicholas, yes Santa Claus. The story has it that local sailors stole his remains from Turkey. Live and learn, somehow I was under the impression that dear old Santa Claus… In any case, the Bascilica is the only building to have survived the sacking of the city by the Normans way back in 1152. Make sure to see the Cattedrale (Cathedral) built shortly afterwards. Nearby is the Castello Svevo undergoing restoration.
About 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Bari is the small port of Trani, which was the major Adriatic port during the Crusades. Santa Maria di Scolanova and Santa Anna are two standing medieval synagogues. The city contains several historic churches, a Swabian castle, and a Gothic Palace of the Doges of Venice, transformed into a seminary.
Of course you know that Italy is shaped like a boot. Did you know that its spur is Promontorio del Gargano (Gargano Promontory), a very popular destination for both Italian and foreign summer tourists. With a rough and ready landscape and curvy mountain roads make sure that you watch your driving, even more so than in most of Italy.
The area’s major center near the tip of the spur is the whitewashed town of Vieste known for its castle. Take a ferry from Vieste to the nearby archipelago Isole Tremiti. A word of warning before you go, the name Tremiti is associated with the word tremor. There have been earthquakes. Some of the islands are uninhabited and one of them has the interesting habit of being covered by waves. But the view is spectacular. Perhaps it was a consolation to the political prisoners exiled by Benito Mussolini during his reign.
Make sure to see the Foresta Umbra (Shady Forest) encompassing more than sixty thousand acres, hundreds of animal species and two thousand plant species including beech, maple, oak, and sycamore trees normally seen in northern climes. How do they do it? This forest is perched at 3,200 feet above sea level.
Monte Sant’Angelo has been a major destination for pilgrims over the last fifteen hundred years. Among them were St. Francis of Assisi and Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. Sights worth seeing include the Santuario di San Michele (Sanctuary of San Michele) and the Tomba di Rotari (Tomb of Rotari), a medieval baptistery. Other sights include the ruins of a Norman castle and the old city known as Rione Junno.
Before leaving western Apulia make sure to see the famous Castel del Monte, a mysterious eight-sided castle built in the Thirteenth Century. Unlike most medieval castles, it lacks military structures. Perhaps it was a resting place for pilgrims seeking the Holy Grail. Or maybe…
What about food? Italy has a classification process for food, roughly similar to the wine classification. Apulia’s classified foods include Clementines, Olives, two Cheeses, and four Olive Oils. There are so many specialties that one of these days we will have to sit down and write one or several articles on the foods of Apulia. In the meantime we suggest the following sample menu, one of many. Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal. Start with Ciceri e tria (Chick Pea and Noodle Soup). Then try Grata alla barese (Roasted Bream with Potatoes, Garlic, and Pecorino Cheese). For dessert indulge yourself with Carteddate (Marsala, Honey, and Cinnamon Fried Pastry).
We finish this article with a quick look at Apulian wine. Apulia ranks 2nd among the 20 Italian regions for both vineyard acreage and total wine production, about 7o% red or rose’ (only a little rose’), leaving 30% for white. This region is home to 25 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Less than 4% of Apulia wine carries the DOC designation. The best-known Apulian wine is Castel del Monte DOC, easily available overseas and frankly rather pedestrian. If you’re in western Apulia you may want to try the Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera DOC because of its interesting name, which can be translated as ‘knock it back’. People say that the name reflects the wine. The word is that Moscato di Trani DOC is an excellent sweet white wine, but you may have to go to Apulia to get it. When you think about it that’s just one more reason to visit this sometimes overlooked region of Italy.
About the author:
Levi Reiss is the author or co-author of ten computer and Internet books, but to tell the truth, he would rather just drink fine German or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His global wine website is http://www.theworldwidewine.com which links to his other web sites.