Turi

Turi, to the south-west of Conversano, is a secular town surrounded by farmland. The small castle, Castello Caracciolo, is of a compact square structure, and is now a manor house.

Amongst numerous other churches in Turi, the most notable is the Chiesa Sant'Oronzo sulla Grotta, located next to the cemetery. The people of Turi know the saint as 'Il Cappellone' – 'The Big Hat' – and for centuries have revered the bishop who sought refuge in a grotto in the town to escape persecution. This church is built above the cave, which is still accessible to view. Legend has it that there is a network of underground passages from the cave which lead back to the centre.

As with Conversano, cherries are a significant crop, and in June the town celebrates the fruit each year at the Sagra della Ciliegia Ferrovia. Here, under gazebos erected throughout the streets, the locals offer a vast array of cherries and cherry products, with street performers and musical entertainment.

Terlizzi

Inland from Molfetta and north west of Bari is Terlizzi, the 'city of flowers', named as such due to the vast number of roses, tulips and dahlias grown in the area. From the 11th Century onwards it became a fortified settlement, and was frequented by Frederick II during the 13th Century.

The Norman clock tower, that still remains today, houses a back lit clock that is second only in size to Big Ben within Europe. Outside the town is one of the last remaining parts of the Roman road Via Appia Traianam, off which is the 11th Century Chiesa di Santa Maria di Cesano.

Terlizzi - Torre Maggiore del Castello Normanno
Torre Maggiore del Castello Normanno

The old town today appears to be more or less untouched by tourism, so is populated by shopkeepers servicing the local population - butchers, greengrocers etc. It is worthy of a brief visit if in the area, but probably no more than this. Have a quiet walk around the old town where you will find the Norman clock tower, cathedral and a handful of typically impressive churches and other buildings of note.

Ruvo di Puglia

South of Bisceglie and west of Bari is Ruvo di Puglia. There has been a settlement here since the 9th Century BC.

Most notable about the town today is the cathedral, Cattedrale Santa Maria, one of the best examples in Puglia of romanesque architecture, which features a sloped facade on the roof, giving the impression of greater height. It is possible to visit the hypogeum underneath the cathedral, which includes the remains of the basilica from early Christian worship and Roman tombs.

Ruvo di Puglia - La Cattedrale
La Cattedrale Santa Maria

The Museo Archeologico Nationale at the Palazzo Jatta on the outskirts of the old town has a wide collection of earthenware vases, as well as paintings, furniture and other memorabilia telling the story of the town of Ruvo di Puglia and the surrounding area. It opens every day from 8:30am to 1:30pm, and on Thursday and Saturday it is open from 8:30am to 7:30pm.

The old town itself is quiet the majority of the time, with few signs of tourism, the locals just going about their daily business. The old town defenses, built in the Aragonese period still survive in places, with various towers and walls scattered around.

Rutigliano

A few kilometres inland from Mola di Bari on the road between Bari and Conversano is the small town of Rutigliano. It is a medieval town set within vast areas of vineyards, which has earned Rutigliano the nick name 'Citta dell'Uva' or 'City of the Grape'. The Norman settlement was built on the site of the ancient town of Azetium, and tombs dating back to the 6th-7th Century BC have been discovered around the castle area. Just to the north of the town a section of the Roman acqueduct that stretched through this area still remains intact.

Rutigliano - Torre Normanno Svevo
Torre Normanno Svevo

The 11th Century castle is no longer standing, but there are several remnants still visible, and a 34m high Norman tower in the centre of the town, just next to Piazza Cesare Battisti.

Other than grapes, Rutigliano is renowned for its terracotta products, most notably cooking pots and whistles, 'fischietti', formed into animal or human shapes. These items dominate the town's Feast of St. Antonio Abate with its terracotta whistle fair, held every January 17th.

Rutigliano is a pleasant and welcoming town worth visiting in conjunction with one or two of the other towns in the area, or Bari itself. Within the old town there are a number of small squares connected by narrow winding streets (some very narrow!) hosting some fine buildings such as the impressive Chiesa di Santa Maria della Colonna. This church dates back to pre-1000, subsequently being enlarged to it's current shape in the 12th Century.

Rutigliano - Chiesa di Santa Maria della Colonna
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Colonna

During our visit to the town there was an antiques fair taking place, primarily located at Piazza Settembre XX behind the war memorial, but also spreading through the streets and squares of the old town. Traders offered an eclectic mix of old farm tools, paintings, ceramics, furniture and general bric-a-brac, with some really quite curious items - a perfect stop off to purchase an unusual holiday gift on the way to Bari airport! It takes place on the first Sunday of every month.

There are a number of cafes dotted throughout the squares of Rutigliano's old town to stop off at for refreshment, and a small choice of restaurants. We ate at La Vite Bianca, located in Piazza Umberto I, just next to the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Colonna. They offer a nice selection of starters (the pure di fave was particularly good), pasta dishes and both meat and seafood main courses, set within a stylish, modern decor. Pizzas are also available in the evening.

Putignano

Situated inland south of Bari and north of Alberobello is the town of Putignano. It has a population of about 27,000, but its bustling central area gives it a feel of a bigger town. It is about an hour's drive from Ostuni via the Val d'Itria, and easily reached from Bari by road, bus and rail (on the local Ferrovaria Sud Est).

Putignano is not on the "tourist trail" but with one major exception - it is the home of possibly the oldest and certainly the longest celebration of Carnevale in Italy. Between Christmas and the start of Lent (usually in February but sometimes well into March) it is the scene of a huge programme of activities, displays and large scale street processions - see details below.

If you are interested in getting lost in winding narrow streets, then Putignano is for you - it is the only centro storico in Puglia where we have got genuinely disoriented. The centro storico is ringed by the main street of the modern town, and consists entirely of narrow streets with a few tiny squares - even the main piazza (Plebiscito) is tiny. This lack of a focal point is really confusing to the visitor, not helped by an absence of any signs and street plans! You find yourself coming out onto the modern perimeter in unexpected places.

Outside the Carnevale season, the centro storico is pretty quiet. It is well populated, but there are hardly any shops, bars or restaurants there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Piazza Plebiscito is the Chiesa Madre di Sant Pietro Apostolo, a romanesque church, and also the Palazzo del Bali, which was once the home of the Knights of Malta and is now a part time civic museum and art gallery. This is worth visiting if you get the opportunity  -  try clicking here for opening hours.  Admission costs 6 euros with concessions for children etc.

The Palazzo dates from the fourteenth century, founded by the Knights of Malta. It became the residence of the Bali family until the early 1800s, then it passed to Romanazzi-Carducci family, which used it as a palatial residence. It is richly decorated and contains valuable furniture, paintings, books, tapestries, porcelain, silverware and crystal; an important collection of weapons; and a display of aristocratic shoes! A highlight is the "Yellow Room", used for social gatherings and musical evenings.

However, Putignano is principally famous for its Carnevale celebrations, which are officially recognised and promoted among the nationally recognised Carnevale of Italy (so it ranks alongside Venice, Viareggio in this respect).

 

Carnevale is a pagan tradition adopted by Catholic Italy and many parts of the world, a period of partying and high spirits preceding the six weeks pre-Easter privations of Lent. The culmination of Carnevale is Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday), the day before Lent commences; but in many places the Carnevale season extends before this date and occasionally just beyond it.

Putignano Carnevale claims to be the oldest in Europe, dating back to 1394. It is certainly the longest Carnevale period in Italy, lasting from the 26th December (St Stephen's Day) until Martedi Grasso; when Easter is late, which pushes this into March, it really is a long period. There are all sorts of events and activities throughout, including some large scale spectacles which are well worth seeing if you get the opportunity. (NB Recently as a special tourist attraction there has been a special re-run of the main processions on the last weekend of July).

The Carnevale origins track back to 1394 when the relics of Saint Stephen were transferred to Putignano from Monopoli, where they had become vulnerable to Saracen coastal raids. The town's inhabitants marked the occasion with a celebration which has lasted ever since. Today, the Carnevale events feature parades of huge grotesque models and masks, music, dancing, theatrical performances etc. Local people dress up in costumes and masks, houses and shops are decorated, and generally revelry is encouraged. Although its origins are religious, Carnevale here is very distinctly irreverent and anti-establishment. All events involve music, dancing, food and drink of course - Carnevale is essentially a big party to precede the sobriety and restrictions of Lent.

The season kicks off on 26 December with a ceremonial lighting of candles to obtain advance forgiveness for sins committed during Carnevale (a nice touch we think!). This is then followed in the evening by a traditional competition called Le Propaggini. These are seven outdoor presentations, 20 minutes or so long, by groups in costumes of workers and peasants. Presentations are of specifically composed satirical poetry based on local history, traditions and personalities, generally mocking politicians, institutions and even the Church -  but all sung in the local Putignanese dialect.  The competition is hotly contested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 17 January, the feast of San Antonio Abate (the patron saint of livestock and livestock breeders) is celebrated by a blessing of animals followed by a blessing of mozzarella cheese - essentially a festival of food and drink. This is also the day when Carnevale masks and models first appear. The signature mask in Putignano is called Farinella - named after a flour mixture of chickpeas and toasted barley which is associated with Putignano. Currently this model is based on the Joker in a pack of cards, with a multi coloured costume and a two headed hat with rattles on. This mask/model features throughout the Carnevale.

Throughout Carnevale, there is a special satirical street party every Thursday, with themes and traditions in a strict traditional sequence, each featuring a particular group of people - priests, nuns, widows, unmarried youth, married women and married men. The last of these is especially elaborate.

On 2 February, known as Candlemas, there is a religious celebration involving blessing of candles, followed by the Festival of the Bear, when a street theatrical production is mounted involving a man dressed as a bear announcing the end of winter if the weather is poor, or that spring is still a long way off if the weather is sunny and mild. This tradition is said to be a pre-Christian concern with the new season's prosperity. The Bear is hunted through the streets by people in costume. In the spirit  of Carnevale, there is always allegory - in 2018 the Bear represented the President of Puglia, Michele Emiliano, who was hunted through the streets and put on trial for his role in closing a local hospital!

 

 

However, the main events of Putignano carnevale come towards the end, and involve especially four processions of seven carriages bearing enormous papier-mache models and displays, surrounded by singers, dancers, acrobats, musicians etc. These take place on the evening of Martedi Grasso itself, and the afternoons of the three preceding Sundays. These are truly large scale  occasions, and you have to pay to get admission to the streets to watch the spectacle (roughly 10 euros per head, with various concessions).

The displays are based on a theme - the 2019 theme is "Satire and Freedom". In recent years the themes have been Fellini's films (2013), Verdi's music (2014), Seven Deadly Sins (2015), Diversity (2016), Monsters (2017), Heroes (2018). Various associations compete for the seven slots, submitting sketches and ideas to a panel about six months in advance. There is tough competition to be selected and to be judged the best display; the prize money (from sponsorship and income) is significant.

The skills and techniques of cartapesta (papier mache) sculpture are carefully nurtured in Putignano, and the specialist artists and technical teams involved in the "associations" are highly regarded. During the months leading up to their launch, the enormous displays are assembled in carefully guarded lofty workshops. It involves producing moulds in clay and gypsum, making wire frames, constructing the models in old newspaper soaked in a special glue, finally intricate painting and refinement.

 

Here are a couple of Youtube videos which give an idea of the atmosphere of the processions of grotesque models

This one is from 2017 when the theme was "Monsters"

This one is from 2015 when the theme was "Seven Deadly Sins"

Whatever the theme, it is usual to see grotesque caricatures of public figures - you may well recognise Silvio Berslusconi, Angela Merkel, Donald Trump, Matteo Renzi.

 

 

The conclusion of Carnevale is a huge procession on the evening of Martedi Grosso. It finishes with a funeral of the Carnevale, represented by a papier mache pig, which is ceremoniously burned after being carried through the streets. And just before midnight 365 recorded church bell chimes, next to a huge papier mache bell, signal the end of Canevale and the start of Lent - although eating, drinking and general merrymaking do continue into the early hours.

 

Have a look at this link for up to date details of Putignano carnevale, including how to obtain on line tickets for the four big days.

http://www.carnevalediputignano.it/programma

In recent years the city has also staged a summer festival featuring the cartapesta models in addition to the traditional early year celebrations; this is in the evenings of the last weekend in July.

Polignano a Mare

Polignano a Mare is on the coast between Bari and Ostuni, easily accessible from the main road and rail network. The railway station is about five minutes' walk from the town centre.

It is located at the top of some dramatic cliffs on the Adriatic coast. Inhabited since pre-historic times, it became established as a Greek and Roman settlement.

The cove at Polignano a Mare
The cove at Polignano a Mare

The most common vista associated with the town is from the bridge on the main street overlooking the small sandy cove enclosed on both sides with spectacular cliff faces and the town built up to the edges of the sheer drops. A gate to the right of the bridge is where you enter the small centro storico. Walk through the old town's winding streets and small piazzas, with shops, bars and restaurants. Whichever route you take will inevitably bring you out at a view point over a cliff face down to the Adriatic sea.

A number of artists have settled in Polignano, and it is the home of the Pino Pascali Museum Foundation, housed in a former slaughter house, with displays, exhibitions and events dedicated to contemporary art.

 

 

 

 

There are several caves in the cliffs of Polignano, including Grotta Palazzese which has been developed as a very exclusive restaurant (and now hotel).

 

Polignano is a pleasant place to spend time at any time of the year. In summer it is busy but not too crowded. At other times of the year it is quiet but with enough of interest for visitors. For a day out with lunch from Ostuni, or as a stop en route to/from Bari, Polignano is ideal.

Polignano is the birthplace of Domenic Modugno, a singer and songwriter who wrote the world famous song Volare (also called Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu).

However, in the last decade it has become famous as the most popular home of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, where it has hosted events for six years out of the last 10 (including this year's 2018 finale, which takes place on Sunday 23 September - practice in the morning, men's and women's competition from about 11.30am, trophy presentation at 2.30pm). There are also practice sessions on the previous day.

 

 

For the divers, who include several Olympic standard competitors, this is the final event of seven held in various countries. They dive from 27 metre (men) and 21 metre (women) platforms, performing somersaults (we have seen five) and twists on the way down before entering the sea (5 metres deep in Polignano) feet first.

The couple of days of the cliff diving are when Polignano is very full. You can watch the diving freely from the cove and nearby vantage points, or from the many boats in the bay which host visitors. About 50,000 people turn up to watch. 2018 is a special year as a favourite for the event is World Championship Bronze Medallist Allesandro de Rose, who comes from Calabria.

 

 

If you are interested in getting a feel for this event and of cliff diving generally, there are links below to a couple of videos.

Cliff diving video 1

Cliff diving video 2

 

Poggiorsini

North-west of Gravina in Puglia, in between the Alto Murgia National Park and the border with Basilicata is the town of Poggiorsini.

The town offers stunning panoramic views of the rugged Murgia landscape, dotted with karstic sink holes and 'jazzi', local sheep shelters. The plateau is covered with typical Murgian flora such as daffodils and wild fennel, and is the home of 'fungo cardoncello', king trumpet mushrooms. This mushroom is of such importance to the town that they celebrate in its honour on the third Sunday of November at the Sagra del Fungo Cardoncello. The town comes alive with music and entertainment, with an exhibition and all manner of local recipes including the mushroom itself.

Palo del Colle

Palo del Colle, translating as “Pole on the Hill”, is located inland from Bari, just south of Bitonto. It sits on a hill 177 metres above sea level surrounded by flat plains. An Ancient Greek settlement, Palo del Colle's original patron, Hercules, was thought to have won a battle here. The town maintains a reputation of never having been defeated, even the Roman's left it to run its own affairs as a Municipality as it was deemed too difficult to capture.

Palo del Colle - Piazza Santa Croce
Piazza Santa Croce

Palo del Colle is focused around the Piazza Santa Croce - this is a pretty large open square surrounding by several of the town's most important buildings such as the Palazzo Filomarino, Chiesa del Purgatorio and Chiesa Madre whose 49 metre tall tower looks from a distance as if the town does indeed have a 'pole on the hill'! Inside the Chiesa Madre you will find frescoes and crypt dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament with its Corinthian columns and intricate carvings.

Palo del Colle - la Chiesa Madre
la Chiesa Madre

The town's main event is the Palio del Viccio, hosted at the beginning of March. A celebration of medieval history and culture, it includes a medieval market with crafts and foods, an exhibition of torture, and various street entertainment throughout the four days of the festival. The entertainment culminates in an unusual jousting competition where knights try to strike a water filled container (originally a turkey) suspended between two balconies on Corso Garibaldi.

Whilst Palo del Colle is an attractive town, unless visiting for the Palio del Viccio in March, it doesn't really demand more than a couple of hours to visit - the proximity to Bari makes it ideal as a brief stop off on the way to the airport in conjunction with some of the other towns in the area such as Bitonto.

Noci

West of Alberobello and south of Putignano is the town of Noci. Established in the Norman era, the town is renowned for its dairy products, such as mozzarella, burrata and stracciatelle. It is named after walnuts, which are in plentiful supply locally and are the base of the well known liqueur.

Noci can be reached by road or by the small railway line out of Bari. The lively modern town surrounds a small, self contained centro storico, a cluster of bright, well kept small streets, interlinking small courtyards called 'Gnostre'. These courtyards also give their name to the town's two biggest events, the Bacca nelle Gnostre and the Pettole nelle Gnostre e Cioccolato in Sagra, The Bacca nelle Gnostre is held at the beginning of November and is a festival of wine and chestnuts, with many of the best local wineries offering their latest vintages, along with 'street food' showcasing some of the region's best culinary specialities. The Pettole nelle Gnostre e Cioccolato in Sagra are organised in early December as a build up to Christmas with a mixture of history, archaeology and food, with a special focus on chocolate!

Noci is an attractive place to wander round, but this does not take long! Everything seems small compared with other places in Puglia. It is definitely not geared up for tourists, there are no gift shops or similar, and not many eating and drinking establishments. So unless you are going there for some special reason, it is probably best to visit during one of its food festivals, or at least during the summer months, when bars and restaurants are open in the centro storico and the small streets and squares come to life.

There is no museum or gallery we are aware of in Noci, but there is an unusual "Museo della Strada". This consists of a series of illustrated exhibition boards on the walls of the centro storico, not particularly linked to any specific building or place, mostly providing information about history, local trades and traditions, architecture, food and drink, agriculture, famous people from Noci (none we have previously heard of we are ashamed to confess). These boards are all numbered, there are about 30 in all, so we assume that they are designed as a "trail", although we have never followed them through so assiduously.

Monopoli

Originally developing as a Messapian fortified settlement in the 5th Century BC, Monopoli was a key stop off point on the Via Traiana section of the Appian Way during Roman times. Following periods under the control of Byzantines, Normans and Hohenstaufens the town became an important trading port under Venetian control during the 15th and 16th Centuries - this attracted the attention of pirates which resulted in the strong town defences still visible around the harbour.

Today, Monopoli is the main town between Ostuni and Bari and is the base for significant industrial activities - on first approaching the town from pretty much any direction it doesn't look like much of a place to hang around in for too long, but take our word for it, it is worth persevering to find the old town around the harbour.

Monopoli - il centro storico
Il centro storico

The centro storico is a distinct entity within the town. It presents a complete contrast to Ostuni - especially because it is flat! A series of narrow but elegant streets link small piazzas, with buildings reflecting the long Spanish influence on the town. If you are interested in churches, then Monopoli s the place for you - there are over 20 in the centro storico, dating from the tenth to the nineteenth century, including a rupestrian church and a couple of crypts.

Monopoli
The Harbour

The sea is on three sides, with a harbour area dominated by a pentagonal shaped castle, and hosts exhibitions and conventions as well as being open to tourists. Wandering through the streets you are constantly coming back to the waterside. There is a tourist office at the entrance to the centro storico on Via Garibaldi. This organises guided tours of various sorts, but there is a well marked "tourist trail" to follow on foot.

Piazza Garibaldi, Monopoli
Piazza Garibaldi

The largest open space in the centro storico is Largo Palmieri, which is dominated by the Palazzo Palmieri, the home of an aristocratic family who owned the building until 1921. The most attractive space is Piazza Garibaldi, which is roughly triangular in shape, enclosed by a series of buildings of interest, enlivened by trees including colourful oleanders. The piazza is lined by a number of small bars and restaurants which improve its atmosphere rather than detract from it. So make sure you stop at one of them for a drink or a meal - our favourite is Premiato Caffe Veneziana, but they are all good.

Walk to the old harbour through an archway next to the Piazza Garibaldi, follow this round to the castle, then walk along a promenade overlooking the sea, follow this up with a wander through the streets of the old city back to where you started from. One of the very besy 15 minutes or so you will spend anywhere in Italy!