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Puglian Romanesque

An itinerary including some of the region's most celebrated cathedrals and churches.

Puglian Romanesque

For lovers of art and culture, Puglia is a dream destination. Of all the great works of art to have survived until the present day, those of the Romanesque period, which flourished from the early 10th century until the mid 12th century, are the most dominant; visible from North to South of the region, from Capitanata to the Terra di Bari and the Salento.

Traces of this particular historical period can be seen throughout the region, in the form of superb architectural works; result of Norman, Greek and Byzantine traditions; diverse cultural stimuli which all profoundly influenced the development of medieval Puglia.
The Capitanata, in the province of Foggia, and the Terra di Bari are, without doubt, the areas with the greatest number of Romanesque masterpieces.

A journey back in time, through a region of Italy which, historically and artistically, has been greatly influenced by the Orient; a land where to admire churches, basilicas, and superb works of sculpture; some of which miraculously intact, others in various states of ruin.

In the province of Foggia one finds Bovino; a small town just 36 kilometers from the capital city, situated on a high plain facing westwards towards Italy's Campania region, and where a typical example of Puglian Romanesque, the Cathedral of St Maria Assunta, can be found.
It is thought that the cathedral was originally built towards the end of the 10th century, although numerous alterations have been made to the building over the centuries. The structure still transmits that air of austerity, typical of the basilicas of the late middle ages.
The interiors of the edifice are decidedly sober, with just a few traces of original stucco work surrounding the single lancet windows through which light is allowed to enter the building. Also worthy of visit whilst at Bovino - considered to be one of the most attractive villages in Italy, and without doubt one of the oldest settlements in the Foggia province - is the ancient church of St Pietro.

Still in the province of Foggia, in the Gargano area, one finds numerous examples of religious buildings from the Romanesque period, such as the Church of St Leonardo at Siponto and the Church of St Maria, at the gates of Manfredonia, this latter surrounded by the remains of an early Christian basilica.

To reach the higher slopes of the promontory, one takes the SS89 highway leading to Mattinata: after a short tunnel, travellers proceed directly ahead to meet the coastal road leading to Vieste - with the majestic Cathedral of St. Maria di Merino -, or turn left in the direction of Monte St Angelo, which boasts two masterpieces of the Romanesque period; the Abbey of Pulsano and the Church of St Maria Maggiore.

Those who decide to make a detour to the Tremiti islands should take the time to visit the Church of St Maria a Mare located on the island of S. Nicola.

Proceeding southwards, along the 'Adriatica' highway, one comes to the province of Bari.
Our first stop is at Trani, where the Cathedral erected in honor of St.Nicola Pellegrino is situated; arguably one of the most impressive examples of Puglian Romanesque architecture after that of St Nicola in Bari.
This imposing building is of certain impact; its dazzling white limestone façade standing out against the deep blue backdrop provided by the sea.
An edifice of notable dimensions, the nave of the church exceeds 30 meters in length and 20 meters in height, whilst the adjacent bell tower soars some 59 meters above the ground.
The church has two crypts, those of S.Nicola Pellegrino and S.Maria della Scala.
Among the masterpieces in the Cathedral, the main portal, adorned with geometric and floral motifs which accompany both human and animal forms, is a magnificent example of the Puglian tradition of intaglio in marble and bronze. Whilst in Trani, the churches of SS. Trinità and St Andrea are also well worthy of visit.

Those wishing to witness the masterpieces of the Puglian Romanesque must not fail to visit Ruvo di Puglia.
From Trani, one leaves the coastal road travelling inland, to reach Andria, and the 231 road towards Corato.
Immediately afterwards one comes to Ruvo di Puglia.
The cathedral was built between the 12th and 13th century, although the numerous alterations made to the building over the centuries have made it difficult to get a clear idea of the edifice's original appearance.
The facade has three portals: the largest, central portal is embellished with bas-reliefs depicting Christ and the twelve apostles and reworkings of iconographic themes related to the saviour. Of particular note; the immense rose window and the double lancet window featuring a bas-relief of the Archangel Michael defeating the devil.
The church is comprised of a nave and two aisles ending in a transept. Today's aspect is the result of restoration work carried out in the early 20th century.
This masterpiece of Romanesque art contains yet others within its walls, such as the wooden statue of St Biagio, patron of the city, and the silver reliquary of the saint.

The great Pontifical Basilica of St Nicola di Bari was constructed towards the end of the 11th century to house the body of the Saint successfully brought back to the Puglian capital from Mira, ancient city located in modern day Turkey.
One of the highest expressions of Puglian medieval religious architecture, today it is entrusted to the Domenican fathers and the title of prior is held by the Archbishop.
In the heart of old Bari - as the historic center of the city is called - the Basilica continues to be, as in the period when the building was first erected, the final destination of pilgrimages by members of the catholic and orthodox churches from all over the world.
Each and every town district of the province of Bari possesses at least one house of worship the style of which has been influenced by the basilica cathedral. Not to be missed; that of Bitonto, Monopoli - and the church of St Maria Amalfitana.

In the Salento, the examples of Puglian Romanesque become less frequent. A number are located in the town of Oria, in the province of Brindisi, home to small stone churches such as the Church of Crepacore, in the Torre S Susanna, or the Madonna della Scala, situated three kilometers outside of Oria on the old road which leads to Manduria.
The origins of the church, which boasts a stunning façade in classic Puglian Romanesque style, date back to some time around the 13th and 14th centuries.
Inside the church one can admire a series of frescoes depicting the apocalypse.
Oria is easy to reach from Bari: it is sufficient to take the highway for Lecce and take the Ostuni exit, cross this town and that of Francavilla before coming to Oria. Alternatively, from Brindisi, take the State road no.7 for Taranto which also leads to Oria.

At Otranto, we find the Cathedral Latina, dating back to the period following the Norman conquest.
This imposing building still dominates a town which has expanded greatly over the centuries. Other churches of certain interest include the Church of St. Pietro dei Samari in Gallipoli and that of St. Nicolò and Cataldo in Lecce.

Itineraries

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Baia delle Zagare

Mattinata

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Hotel Il Porto

Mattinata

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Vivosa Apulia Resort

Ugento

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Gli Orti di Malva

Peschici

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Agriturismo Torre dei Preti

Peschici - Loc. Valle Croci

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Tenuta Centoporte

Giurdignano

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Patria Palace

Lecce

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Nicolaus

Bari

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Il Barone del Mare

Peschici

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Masseria Le Fabriche

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Useful links
Puglia (all hotels)
Vieste Hotels
Andria Hotels
Gargano Hotels
Trani Hotels
Gallipoli Hotels