28 September to 7 October 2018
After an epic night sail from Montenegro we had intended Brindisi to be a brief port of call on our mission to get to Sicily but the weather had other ideas.
We knew we would be there a few days with the strong northerly winds that had been forecast. We were not however expecting the uncharacteristic southerlies that followed them or the rain and thunderstorms that followed them.
In the end we stayed in Brindisi for a week and a half, a week in the marina outside the town (and from where we were able to explore more of Puglia) and four nights on the town quay to be closer to the action.
Heavily fortified, with active naval, army and UN bases, and industrial Brindisi quickly threw off its gritty first impressions and peeled back its many layers.
Along the old town’s shiny marble streets were palazzi dating back to the 14th century
and a now familiar Baroque duomo.
Stefan was more excited about the tiny circular chapel of the Knights Templar and quickly downloaded a book for his kindle to learn more about them, his interest having first been piqued in Rhodes.
Brindisi’s Roman past is visible in the one remaining column of a pair which marked the end of the Via Appia, the road down which legionnaires marched on route to Greece and beyond. The second column was gifted to Lecce as a thank you for the town’s support during an outbreak of plague. Elsewhere in Brindisi’s residential streets other reminders of the Romans lie casually.
The original and ornate capital which topped the column is kept for safe keeping from the weather in a palazzo nearby. It’s detail is stunning when able to observe it close up. It was wasted up so high!
The Palazzo Granafei-Nervegna also houses a tourist information office with the fanciest portico and the remains of a Roman domus (house) found under the floor.
Brindisi’s natural harbour, which has been a been a major port since ancient times, makes it the perfect location for Mussolini’s Monument to the Italian Sailor. This vast, appropriately rudder shaped sculpture dominates the inner harbour as a reminder of the sacrifices of the Italian navy in the First World War.
Inside it houses a spectacularly vaulted chapel of remembrance to those lost then as well as in more recent conflict. There are also bottles of seawater from the world’s oceans. They all looked suspiciously crystal clear to us!
A lift took us almost all the way up the 53 metre high monument otherwise accessed by a beautiful staircase to some brilliant views across Brindisi,
down to the old town and Pintail on the quay and over to the marina in the outer harbour.
While we were staying in the marina we took the long 3 and a half kilometre walk along the sea wall. Lots of fishermen and women stood on the high wall catching tuna and other big fish at a significant rate. Stefan climbed the ladder to the top to see if he could get any tips!
We tried to walk down to the fort that protruded into the outer harbour but found the gates firmly closed. Instead we found a gap in the fence to a newer but abandoned military base. We clambered in and around the empty buildings, found gun emplacements and bunkers that would have made the harbour very difficult to invade.
On a very rainy day I took shelter in the archeological museum which houses an impressive collection of finds including 3rd century BC Messopian pottery with an image of a swan and a beautiful glass Roman cremation urn.
A collection of bronze sculptures found in a shipwreck showed the colourful effect of the saltwater’s erosion.
Stefan was very disappointed when I returned home to tell him he had missed the collection of Roman coins!
There was great excitement in Brindisi when we were joined on the town quay by the Italian Naval tall ship STS Amerigo Vespucci. This 101 metre long square rigger was built in 1930 to look like an early 19th century warship and is used by the Italian Navy as a training ship. The people of Brindisi came out in force to welcome her and queue for a tour of the ship.
An encounter with Noé, taxi driver and owner of the beautifully kept Fiat 124, taught us a lot about modern life in Brindisi. On our first trip into town we had noticed a very visible community of Black African young men and had been amused at the sight of so many of them cycling the roads wearing wellies. Noé explained to us that many of them work outside Brindisi on the farms. He showed us where many of them live in disused buildings, their hundreds of bicycles parked outside. It was also refreshing to hear a positive attitude towards this migrant population from a taxi driver. “Everyone deserves respect” he said. It’s a shame so many of our London taxi drivers don’t share this pro migrant message.
Finally, we couldn’t leave Brindisi without trying a Puglia speciality, pasticciotto, a savoury looking pastry pie filled with custard. Delicious!
But before we could develop an addiction to pasticciotto a window in the weather enabled us to begin our mission to get to Sicily…