Exploring Puglia

1 and 2 October 2018

Weather bound in Brindisi for a while we made the most of it and hired a car for a couple of days to see a bit more of Puglia, the region best recognised as Italy’s heel.

Our first stop was Lecce, described as “the Florence of the South“. I’ve not been to Florence and Stefan’s memory of the city is hazy so we can’t confirm or deny this moniker but, apart from being a nightmare to park in, we found a town packed full of palazzi from the 17th century

and more than 40 baroque churches. The town’s most famous church, Basilica di Santa Croce, was being renovated so we didn’t get to see the intricate work of the stone masons that someone described as “like a lunatic having a nightmare“.

Elsewhere we did see the exuberant stonework of other artists and the papier-mache sculptures for which the town is famous.

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In Piazza Sant Oronza there is a 200AD Roman amphitheatre. It takes quite a lot for an amphitheatre to impress us these days especially after the almost complete one at Hierapolis in Turkey.

The highlight of our visit though was Museo Faggiano. In 2001 Luciano Faggiano was renovating a building in order to open a trattoria when the building work uncovered archeological features dating back to the 5th century BC. Instead of his restaurant he ended up with a museum instead!

The tomb of a baby from the Messapic period (the Greek settlers of Puglia) and a Roman cistern were uncovered. 17th century tiles had been used to prevent damp in the walls.

The building had later been a convent with a floor that matched my trousers and a 16th century ceiling made of 600 earthenware jars by way of insulation. It was an incredible place and made us wonder what would be uncovered in all the other houses in the town.

When we visited Puglia was full of vineyards dripping with grapes and with olive trees everywhere. The area is Italy’s biggest producer of olive oil. The roads are also very straight thanks to the Romans!

Those roads took us a world away from the baroque to the unique architecture of Alberobello. Looking like somewhere straight out of Tolkien’s imagination, the town is full of conical stone rooved mini houses. Legend tells that these dry stone trulli were built to be taken down in a hurry when the taxman came to town!

With their white painted symbols, we have certainly seen nothing like these houses before.

Outside the town trulli can also be found in the fields, mostly now used as farm buildings.

Continuing north we found our way to Bari. Like Lecce, a town packed full of baroque churches, squares and palazzi but feeling a lot more lived in and down to earth.

Regular readers may recall that when we were in Demre in Turkey we visited the original resting place of Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, but found that his bones had long been stolen and taken elsewhere. Turns out they turned up in Bari, in a fishing boat the remains of which also lie in the Basilica di San Nicola.

Outside the old town, the grandiose 19th century boulevards housed theatres and apartment buildings.

We headed back to the boat hoping that the forecast might allow us to move southwards down the coast of Puglia…

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