A land of spirituality and history
It’s worth doing an excursion just to wander around the old city of Bari, an entrancing jumble of streets that are possibly the most mind-bending place to walk around on your Mediterranean cruises to southern Italy.
Situated at the far end of Corso Cavour, its labyrinth of seemingly endless passages, weaving through courtyards and under arches, were originally designed to spare the inhabitants from the wind and throw invaders into a state of confusion. Here, life is lived very much outdoors, and on summer evenings it’s full of people sitting outside their kitchen doors.
On arriving in the heart of Bari’s old city, you find the Basilica di San Nicola, consecrated in 1197 to house the relics of the saint plundered a century earlier from southern Turkey via Mediterranean Sea. The real beauty of the church lies in its stonework, but best of all is the twelfth-century episcopal throne behind the altar, a superb piece of work supported by small figures wheezing beneath its weight.
Leaving the coast, curious-looking trulli are dotted throughout the Murge area of Puglia. Cylindrical, whitewashed buildings with grey conical roofs tapering out to a point or sphere, they are often adorned with painted symbols. The thick walls insulate equally against the cold in winter and the summer heat, while local limestone is used to make the two-layered roofs watertight.
Seventy kilometres inland, Matera, situated on the edge of a ravine at the eastern end of Basilicata, dates from the Middle Ages when monks built rock-hewn churches and monasteries into what are now called the Sassi an intricate series of terraced caves. Later, farmers, seeking safety from invasions, also settled in the Sassi, fashioning their homes, stables and shops out of the rock, creating one of Italy’s oddest townscapes and its most significant troglodyte settlement.