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  • Writer's picturePeter Antonucci

Bari, Italy

Wednesday | June 10, 2015

As with most days recently, today was fun and exciting.

I began the day with my customary 8:00 AM stretch class, which is becoming quite beneficial. Immediately after that, my family gathered in our apartment and we ordered omelets, chocolate chip pancakes, fruits, and muffins and sat on the deck overlooking the ancient city of Monopoli.

At 11:00 AM, we headed down to the tender dock.  Once there, we had to wait for a while so my daughter observed the commemorative plaques that are presented to the ship every time we call on a new port.


After the pilot boat had finished its duties, we were all set to go.


We boarded the tender and headed into town where we were met by a large Mercedes-Benz van, our driver and Elisabetta, our tour guide.


We were  whisked away to Bari, a classic Italian seaside town.

Bari also happens to be the third largest port in Italy – after Naples and Palermo. The port, and the attendant deep water dredging, were all accomplished in the mid-1800s.

While the driver carried on, our guide explained the logic behind the Trulia houses, the unique and fascinating conical houses scattered throughout the Puglia region. They were originally constructed in medieval times without the use of any mortar. Every time a landowner built a new property, he was required to pay a tax on mortar to the Duke or Prince of the region. By simply stacking stones on stones not using mortar, the property owners evaded tax. Moreover, and more importantly, when they got word that the Duke was coming to visit the town, the house could be easily disassembled so there would be no evidence of the fact that the house was actually constructed.

Of course, we saw acres and acres of olive trees, and of vineyards during our drive.


Many of the vineyards were covered with plastic sheets, something I’ve never encountered anywhere in the world. Our guide explained that the plastic covering on the table grapes extends the growing season so the people can have fresh grapes during the Christmas and new year festivities, as is traditional. Without the plastic covering, the grapes would have to be harvested in September.

We drove past several beaches; the most attractive one – which was not very attractive at all – is called Panne et Pomedoro, which translates into Bread and Tomatoes, indicating the relatively impoverished level of the people who utilize that beach.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of Bari is its castle, founded by Richard II in 1131.


Subsequently, Frederick II adapted it in 1233-39. In the vaulted hall is a collection of plastic casts of sculpture and architectural fragments from various Romanesque monuments in the region. By the end of the 1400s, it was renovated again, this time by the queen of Poland. And later, in the 1700s it was used as a prison.

We then set off to walk the streets of Bari, viewing several churches and basilicas, all with the capable and informative input of Elisabetta. We came across a large piazza, which was established in 9 A.D. and whose origins were Byzantine. At its inception, it was seeded with icons brought over from Cappadocia.

My aunt was quite comfortable being wheeled through the streets of this Italian wonderland by my duaghter.


And when the wheelchair wasn’t being wheeled, it was being carried high up the ancient stone steps.


The large, late 12th century Apulian-Romanesque Cathedral of San Sabino is based on neighboring San Nicola Basilica, with a dome and one surviving tower –the other one collapsed during an earthquake in 1613.


The Baroque portals on the entrance incorporate 12th century doorways. The interior has been restored to its medieval simplicity. There is a canopy over the high altar and the pulpit, and the Episcopal throne is a reconstruction from the fragments of the original 12th-century edifice. The crypt below the main floor of the church houses the remains of San Sabino, Bari’s patron saint.


(Note: There is a difference between a basilica and a cathedral. A cathedral houses the “cartha” which is a seat for a bishop or cardinal. A basilica, on the other hand, is a church. Thus, in each diocese, there can only be one Cathedral.)

Our next stop was the Basilica di San Nicola (or St. Nicholas). It is truly one of Puglia’s first great Norman churches, begun in 1087. It has a plain exterior with a tall gabled section flanked by towers.

We also heard the tale of St. Nicholas. He died in Turkey and was being prepared for burial there in 1011. As it happens, a boat of Italian sailors from Bari was in Turkey at the time to honor him. It was told that fluid was leaking out of his body and the fluid had been captured in a bottle that was kept in a church in Turkey. When the sellers went to visit the bottle, the bottle shook. The sailors took that as a sign that Saint Nicholas wanted to go with them back to Bari. During the night, they took the bottle and his remains, put them on the ship and sailed back to Bari.

In order to construct this magnificent Cathedral, the Duke who was the Byzantine governor at the time – 1087, gave the land to the people of Bari to build this Basilica. On the grounds at time were all the government buildings. Those buildings were torn down and their stones were used to build the new Basilica. As a result, because the stones were taken from different buildings, the Basilica is asymmetrical. For example, it is longer on one side than on the other.


Below the alter, there lies the human remains of St. Nickolas.  Once a year, they are removed and displayed.


While we were there, we were delighted to see a marriage being performed on the high altar.


Elizabeth next asked us to climb a flight of stairs that enabled us to walk around the outside of the city, with the ancient wall and beautiful homes on our right, and the Adriatic Sea on our left.


Upon leaving the cathedral, we meandered our way down to Mercantile Square, a piazza that was used to humiliate people in the past. Women who were unfaithful or men who were debtors, were strapped to this concrete pole in the middle of the town square where their neighbors hurled insults and rotten food at them.


On the other side of the square was the restaurant we had reserved over a month ago, La Locanda di Federico. There, we had an amazing lunch of orchietti with fresh tomatoes, olives, and pesto sauce as well as fusilli with clams and pesto and

We then enjoyed our return drive to Monopoli and the tender dock.


We bid arrivaderci to our guide.


Having arrived a bit early, we had a chance to relax in the tender tent where I was taken by some beautiful old and sea-weathered shutters.


Then, it was back to the ship for some well-deserved rest.


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