Rodi Garganico

The Gargano peninsula, the "spur on the heel of the boot" of Italy, is quite different in physical character from the rest of Puglia. It has a mountainous interior, much of it forested, with a coastline consisting of limestone headlands separating sandy beaches. Rodi Garganico is a small town on the north side of the Gargano peninsula. It is named after Rhodes because of ancient connections with Greece.

 

Rodi Garganico
Rodi Garganico

Rodi Garganico
Rodi Garganico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a population of 3,700, it is smaller than nearby Peschici. Its main attractions for visitors are the long beaches on either side of the promontory on which the old town sits. The main road between Rodi and San Menaio runs straight along the side of the beach with the waves only a few yards away. There is also a large new marina aimed at visiting tourist craft; in summer and at weekends this is the base for boat excursions along the coast and to the Isole Tremiti.

Rodi Garganico - la spiaggia
Rodi Garganico - la spiaggia

Rodi Garganico - il porto
Rodi Garganico - il porto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rodi's centro storico is very small, reached from the sea and railway station via a steep climb. The small central Piazza Rovelli is lively and full in summer and during the festivals but otherwise is rather quiet. Next to the piazza is the tiny Chiesa San Nicola di Mira, with its adjoining campanile (bell tower). A few yards from the piazza (there are signs) is a terrace called Sotto Il Castello with which has excellent views.

Rodi Garganico - Piazza Rovelli
Rodi Garganico - Piazza Rovelli

Rodi Garganico - Chiesa di San Nicola di Mira
Rodi Garganico - Chiesa di San Nicola di Mira

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The town is especially famous for citrus fruit, oranges especially. At the end of April there is a two day Festival of Oranges.

Rodi is worth a brief visit if you are in this area, and longer if you want to spend time by the sea, as it is a good spot for beaches. It can easily be combined with a visit to Peschici. There are a few bars and restaurants, including several in the marina and along the beaches.

It  is easy enough to reach by road, and especially easy to reach by public transport. Buses run every couple of hours (less frequently on Sundays) between San Severo and Vieste - they stop at Rodi, the trip takes less than two hours. Alternatively, the local railway run by Ferrovie del Gargano runs direct from Foggia, through San Severo to San Nicandra, Rodi and Peschici, a scenic route much of it overlooking the lagoons along the north coast of the Gargano.  The railway station is just below the centro storico and near the marina entrance, with beaches very close by - one advantage of travelling by train from San Severo is that you pass close to  Rodi's impressive trabucco (traditional fishing platform) otherwise not easy to visit.

Peschici

If you are able to go to the Gargano peninsula make sure you include a visit to Peschici, definitely our favourite town in this attractive and unusual part of Puglia.

The Gargano peninsula, the "spur on the heel of the boot" of Italy, is quite different in physical character from the rest of Puglia. It has a mountainous interior, much of it forested, with a coastline consisting of limestone headlands separating sandy beaches.

Peschici is on the northern side of Gargano, a small town (population about 4,700) perched on a headland about 100 metres above the sea, overlooking a sandy bay.

peschici-beach

The name sounds as though it might have something to do with fish, but the true origins seem to be in ancient Slavonic language, related to the quality of its sand, which is famously fine.  The current origins of the town date back to the early 11th century, when the Emperor Ottone I took this part of Gargano from the Turks and built two colonial towns, Rodi Garganico and Peschici. The Normans, who expelled the Turks from the whole of the Gargano, built a castle on the headland at Peschici. Frederick II extended and reinforced the castle and the small city. It functioned as a stronghold for the subsequent occupying powers of Puglia - Angevin, Aragonese and Spanish. It was incorporated into the Kingdom of Naples and in1861 became part of the newly unified Italy.

It is now an important tourist centre and holiday destination, very busy in the July-September period, pretty quiet for the rest of the year. The small centro storico is on the rocky promontory, quite separate from the beach resort below, the two linked by steep stepped footpaths and tricky roads.

The centro storico is small and can be quickly explored. Entered through the Porta del Ponte, one of the three original gates into the walled city, a series of narrow streets connect the gateway to the castello with its commanding viewpoint out to sea. The Corso Garibaldi which leads up to the Porta del Ponte is the lively heart of the town, the focus of the evening passeggiata, with a small park and stalls selling local merchandise.

Peschici - Centro Storico
Peschici - Porta del Ponte
Peschici - Corso Garibaldi
Peschici - Corso Garibaldi
Peschici - Centro Storico
Peschici - Centro Storico

The castle dates originally from 970 when the Byzantines built a series of fortifications, which were later increased by the Normans. In 1239 it was badly damaged by attacks from the Venetian fleet in the war between the Pope and Frederick II, who rebuilt the fortifications afterwards. Subsequently the castle formed a vital part of defences against the Turks in this area. Restored to more or less its present form in the 18th century, it is mainly now a viewpoint (and restaurant!). 

Peschici - Centro Storico
Peschici - il Castello

Two small but very beautiful churches are integrated into the fabric of the centro storico and are well worth visiting if they are open (usually closed in the afternoons, open morning and evening)

* Chiesa Sant'Elia (the patron saint of Peschici) dates from the 13th century but was restored in the 18th century. It contains paintings by the 17th century Neapolitan school.

Peschici - Chiesa di Sant Elias
Peschici - Chiesa di Sant' Elia
Peschici - Chiesa di Sant Elias
Peschici - Chiesa di Sant' Elia
Peschici - Chiesa di Sant Elias
Peschici - Chiesa di Sant' Elia

* Chiesa del Purgatorio (or Santa Maria del Suffragio) was formerly used by the nearby Benedictine Abbey of Calena as a repository for bones of the dead monks. There is a painting on the ceiling of  "Purgatory, Heaven and Hell".

Peschici - Chiesa del Purgatorio
Peschici - Chiesa del Purgatorio
Peschici - Chiesa del Purgatorio
Peschici - Chiesa del Purgatorio

The main beach area lies below the town and can be reached on foot via paths and steps (or vice versa if you are down below - we have only ever stayed in the town centre). There are several hotels, campsites and holiday complexes there, busy in the main season, otherwise pretty well empty.

Peschici - la spiaggia
Peschici - la spiaggia

Next to the beach is a small port/marina. From there during the summer and weekends other times of the year you can take various boat trips to explore the grottoes along the coast and visit the Tremiti Islands.

There are a whole range of options for eating in Peschici, with several excellent bars and restaurants in the centro storico, the Corso Garibaldi and Viale Kennedy just a few steps below the Corso, where several restaurants and bars have terraces overlooking the beach. There are also many eating options outside the centre, including coastal restaurants inside trabucchi (the famous fishing platforms which are a feature of the Gargano) - but you will usually need a car or taxi to get to these places.

As in the Gargano generally, you may struggle if you don't want seafood. Some restaurants offer nothing not involving fish or shellfish. Most have a limited range of grilled/roast meat and vegetables. And there are several pizzerie and bruschetterie.

Peschici is easy enough to reach by road, and there are places to park in and around the centre and in the beach area, although they get full in summer. Roads throughout the Gargano are tortuous, so be ready to take your time.

It is also easy to reach by public transport. Buses run every couple of hours (less frequently on Sundays) between San Severo and Vieste - they call in at Peschici, the trip takes a couple of hours. Alternatively, the local railway run by Ferrovie del Gargano runs direct from Foggia, through San Severo to San Nicandra, Rodi and Peschici, a scenic route much of it overlooking the lagoons along the north cast of the Gargano.  The terminus of the railway is about four kilometres short of Peschici itself, at Peschici Calanella; a bus service links the town with the station, the trip takes about 15 minutes. (NB Although the bus services and the train services in this area are all operated by Ferrovie del Gargano, you will need separate tickets for the bus and the train - these can be bought at the same time from any of the station ticket offices, bars or tabacchini which sell tickets).

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Ferrovia del Gargano
Ferrovia del Gargano

Note that the buses into Peschici from San Severo and from the station go a long way round to get to the top of the town from the beach, so don't panic.  As coaches are banned from the central area, the bus terminus (just a turning area) is above the town centre, near the large cemetery, a flower shop, a fruit market and a bar which sells tickets. Head downhill (unfortunately uphill on the way back) for 5-10 minutes along Via Monesanto until you reach the elegant white Chiesa di Sant'Antonio, turn right into Via Magenta (where there is a tourist information centre open Monday-Saturday 10.00am-12.30pm and 4.00pm-7.30pm), then left to reach the gateway into the centro storico. 

Peschici - Chiesa di Sant Antonio
Peschici - Chiesa di Sant Antonio

Bovino

Bovino is located in the south west part of the Province of Foggia. With a history dating back to before the Roman era, it was destroyed and rebuilt by the Romans as they secured influence over the entire Italian peninsula, naming the town Vibinum. It fell under the influence of various rulers over the centuries, who each left a mark on the architecture of the town.

Today, the town is a member of the 'Italy's Most Beautiful Villages' club, quite an accolade considering the competition in the region of Puglia, let alone the rest of Italy. The Norman Castello Ducale dominates the town, and in recent years has had a small section tastefully converted into a hotel with a limited number of rooms. Also within the castle is located the Museo Diocesano, which has many interesting items on display including what is claimed to be a thorn from Jesus Christ's crown during the crucifixion.

The narrow Byzantine style streets reportedly contain 800+ stone doorways into the town's dwellings and palaces. The end of August sees the town celebrate its Cavalcata Storica, a procession of horse riders wearing traditional costumes in honour of Maria Valleverde, with the celebrations culminating in a dramatic fireworks display.

Bovino - la villa communale

On our visit to the town we opted to stay for a couple of nights at the castle as it is a good few hours drive from our home near Ostuni. It was good value for money and provided an excellent base to explore the rest of the town. Despite being listed among the most beautiful towns in Italy it is certainly not overrun with tourism even during the summer months. During the evening the area between the castello and villa communale fills up with locals of all ages, enjoying the cooler air provided by the town's elevation.

The narrow streets are a great opportunity to get lost amongst the town's beauty and history, dotted with independent shops, cafes, restaurants and a handful of churches. The cathedral has a modest look in comparison to many found within Puglian towns, and consists of varying construction styles depending on the period of constuction - the earliest section contains the relics of San Marco di Eca, the towns patron saint, and dates back to the 10th Century. Construction was finally completed in the 13th Century.

Bovino - la cattedrale

The town is nestled in the hills to the west of Foggia, and there are many dramatic viewpoints over the plains below, and also the tree lined hills surrounding the town. These landscapes seem so far removed from those further south in Puglia - with not a single olive tree in sight - that it feels like another part of Italy, or a different country altogether!

In terms of recommendations for places to eat and drink, we had a wonderful evening meal at Osteria Ndo' Save'rie Lu Conte, located on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, between the castle and the villa communale. It is a small family run restauarant with the kitchen at one end of the single room so you can see all the action as the food is prepared. There wasn't a menu as such, we were seated at a table before being presented with a series of antipasti, a couple of pasta dishes and then the option of a handful of meat dishes - all of a high quality and good value. We also found an Irish themed 'pub' on via Roma near the cathedral, called Tullamore, which provided an excellent location for an aperitivo.

Troia

To the south of Lucera and south west of Foggia is the town of Troia. Reputedly founded by the Ancient Greek hero Diomedes after the sacking of Troy, in the 11th Century the town acted as a defence against the Normans and became of strategic importance throughout this era, being besieged on numerous occasions.

The impressive 13th Century cathedral boasts unique Romanesque architecture, and illustrations of its saints and bishops in the Museo del Tesoro della Cattedrale.

The first thing that struck us on our visit to Troia was the complete lack of vineyards - Nero di Troia is on of the more popular red grape varieties in Puglia, so we expected to see something similar to Manduria, the home of Primitivo, where there are vines as far as the eye can see surrounding the town, and the the grape forms an important part of the town's culture and identity. However, the town sits on a long thin hill amongst the typical wheat fields of the province of Foggia. Further research into the matter revealed that whilst the grape variety takes it's name from the town, it is primarily grown further south, around the north/north-west of Bari.

The small old town of Troia is located on the top of it's hill, so is long and thin, based around the via Regina Margherita. Whilst there doesn't appear to be a huge amount of tourism in the town, strolling down the via Regina Margherita, dotted with various churches and palazzi, and independent shops and businesses surrounded by the every day hustle bustle of the locals proved to be very pleasant. At one end is the Santuario di Maria SS Mediatrice, and following the main thoroughfare you will pass the comune/town hall, which is located in the 16th Century Palazzo dei Principi D'Avalos. This palazzo also houses the Museo Civico, opened in 1971 and houses displays shwoing the history of the town. The museum is split into five sections: pre-Roman (as far back as 8th Century BC; Roman; medieval; modern; and contemporary.

Further along the road is the catedral, la Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, which unfortunately was closed for renovations at the time of our visit. We did however manage to get a look inside la Chiesa di San Basilio, just off the main street along via San Basilio, a wonderfully simple 11th Century church.

To the far end of the town is the Chiesa di Sant'Andrea in Sant'Anna. This is located on the Piazza Ettore de Pazzis, where you will also find the villa communale, a small park area that provides some well needed shade from the summer heat.

Lucera

Lucera is a city of about 34,000 inhabitants located 15 km west of Foggia. Two important key "sights" are a huge Swabian/Angevin fortress and the largest Roman amphitheatre in the south of Italy. However, Lucera also has a lively and attractive historic core with a beautiful cathedral. Do not be discouraged by the many blocks of flats which dominate the outskirts of Lucera - the central area is a wonderful place to visit and is easy to reach by road and public transport.

We unhesitatingly recommend a visit to Lucera, especially if you are looking for a stopping off place in this area while travelling to or from the south of Puglia - in this latter respect it is preferable to San Severo or Foggia. You can enjoy the centro storico on a short visit, maybe having lunch or a drink near the cathedral. If you want to visit the Castello and/or the Roman amphitheatre, you will need to allow a bit longer, about an hour each. Both sites are just outside the central area but at opposite sides, each about 10-15 minutes on foot from the centre; they both have car parks next to them and are easy to find via brown road signs.

Lucera - Anfiteatro Romano
Lucera - Anfiteatro Romano

 

Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina
Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The city is built on some low hills rising out of the huge plain (the Tavolgiere) which dominates this northern part of Puglia. Originally a Bronze Age settlement, it came to prominence as a Roman city, especially under the Emperor Augustus, when the Amphitheatre was constructed. It subsequently declined, but became a base for Frederick II, who not only started on the huge fortress, but relocated the Muslim population of Sicily (to reduce conflict there) to Lucera and allowed them to practice their religion, a bold step for a Holy Roman Emperor. So for a period in the 13th Century Lucera had a Muslim population of 15-20,000, accommodated mainly in the Castello. The city was sacked by the Christian Angevins in1369. The Muslim population other than those who converted was executed, expelled or sold into slavery, and its mosques replaced by churches including the present day cathedral.

The centro storico is fairly extensive, bounded by a road just outside the line of the old city walls, some of which remain. Inside the old walls are streets paved in traditional "chianche" stone flags, lined by elegant buildings, many of them 18th century palazzi, with shops, bars etc at street level. The streets are not especially narrow compared with some other Puglian cities, and vehicles compete with pedestrians except for the very central core around the Duomo . Nevertheless this area is best visited on foot.

A good starting point is Piazza del Popolo, which is just a traffic junction/roundabout outside the old walls; the road from Foggia and the road from the railway station lead straight to it. From here you can enter the centro storico through the archway of the Porta Troia and just follow the streets through to the linked Piazza Duomo and Piazza Nocelli which are the heart of the city. Lucera is a very lively place, and in the evening especially the streets and squares are full of people of all ages making the traditional passegiata.

Lucera - Porta from Piazza del Popolo
Lucera - Porta di Troia from Piazza del Popolo

 

 

 

Lucera is surprisingly underdeveloped as a tourist destination, with no souvenir shops or similar. There is a Tourist Information Office in Piazza Nocelli (open 9.00am-1.00pm and 3.30-7.30pm Tuesdays to Sundays). It is very limited - you can get a useful map of the centro storico there. However plenty of brown signs on the streets give directions to the main attractions.

The Duomo is la Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunta, It is a large and imposing church completed in 1317 (the tower added later), built on the site of what had previously been a mosque (itself built on the site of an older church) serving the community of Moslems relocated to Lucera by Federick II. It is built in the Gothic style, comparatively plain both outside and inside - various 16th and 17th Century Baroque elements were added internally but subsequently removed.

Lucera - il Duomo
Lucera - il Duomo
Lucera - il Duomo
Lucera - il Duomo
Lucera - il Duomo
Lucera - il Duomo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are several other churches in Lucera centro storico, notably San Domenico and San Francesco Antonio Fasani, dedicated to the local saint; there is a statue of him in the pleasant modern piazza outside the church. 

 

Lucera - Chiesa San Domenico
Lucera - Chiesa San Domenico
Lucera - Chiesa San Domenico
Lucera - Chiesa San Domenico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucera - Chiesa San Francesco
Lucera - Chiesa San Francesco

 

Lucera - Chiesa San Francesco
Lucera - Chiesa San Francesco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucera - Chiesa San Francesco
Lucera - Chiesa San Francesco

 

 

There are also two museums which are located in attractive old palazzi, interesting in themselves as well as for their exhibits - the Museo Civico di G Fiorelli, and the Museo Diocesano inside the Palazzo Vescovile opposite the Duomo.

 

 

 

Lucera - Palazzo Vescovile
Lucera - Palazzo Vescovile

 

 

The Castello (known as la Fortezza Svevo Angioina - the Swabian-Angevin Fortress) is located in a dominant position about 500 metres to the west of the centro storico (you can get a good view from the Villa Communale). Although it is largely a ruin, mainly just the external walls, it is enormous. It can be visited and is well worth going to see. The scale of the building once inside its walls is dramatically evident.

Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina
Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina

Initially designed and built in 1233 by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, to accommodate the Muslim Saracens of Sicily. The walls were added between 1269 and 1283 by the Angevins to make it a fully fortified military base as well as an imperial palace. It became a massive complex reflecting Lucera's role as the main city in this area. However, it was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1456, and as Lucera city developed nearby as a civic and commercial centre, it was gradually abandoned and largely demolished in the 18th century so that its materials could be used for major civic construction. The walls and some towers have been partly restored.

To visit the Castello, you cross a bridge over the former moat and enter the extensive open area surrounded by the walls via large gateway. It is open 9.00am-1.00pm and 3.30-7.30pm, every day except Monday. You pay at a wooden hut a little way inside - 3 euros (NB for 6 euros you can get a single ticket for all Lucera's sites and museums). There are displays indicating positions of various buildings within the walls - including barracks, a church and most importantly the pyramid like palace which is also the site of the original Frederick II castle, the base still clearly evident. A14-metre deep well inside the palace courtyard provided water to the castle.

 

Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina
Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina
Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina
Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most dramatic feature is the wall itself. This is 900 metres long, and incorporated 13 square towers, two pentagonal bastions, seven buttresses and two cylindrical corner towers. You can visit one of the round towers and walk along a short section of the top of the wall next to it. Inside the tower is an informative and very well produced video reconstruction of the buildings of which only traces now remain within the walls. An especially good view of the outside of the walls can be obtained from a viewpoint about two hundred metres beyond the bridge over the old moat.

 

 

 

Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina
Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina
Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina
Lucera - Fortezza Svevo Angioina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Anfiteatro di Lucera lies in a natural depression about 500 metres east of the city centre. It was built in 27 BC in honour of Emperor Octavian when the Roman Senate conferred on him the title of "Augustus" - it is usually called the Augustan Amphitheatre. It was used for the usual Roman displays - gymnastics, gladiatorial contests, wild animals, mock naval battles etc. However its use diminished with the spread of Christianity, and much of its structure was used as building material over the centuries, especially for the Castello. It was rediscovered in 1932, and restored over the following 20 years. It is open 9.00am- 1.00pm and 3.30-7.30pm, every day except Monday, tickets at an office in a small museum/display area on the site. You enter via reconstructed marble gateways, descend into the arena and get the feel of what it might have been like over 1000 years ago.

 

 

Lucera - Anfiteatro Romano
Lucera - Anfiteatro Romano
Lucera - Anfiteatro Romano
Lucera - Anfiteatro Romano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To reach Lucera by road, leave the autostrada at Foggia and follow the signs. It is about 20 minutes drive, and the road leads almost directly into Piazza del Popolo where there are car parks. There are also signs to the Castello and Anfiteatro.

By rail, take the Ferrovia del Gargano train from Foggia. Buy tickets at the newspaper stand in the station. There are trains at least hourly, usually half hourly, the trip takes about 20 minutes - make sure you don't get off at the first station called Lucera, this is a new station serving residential and commercial parts of the town and does not have a separate name! A straight 10-15 minute walk up the road from the station, slightly uphill, gets you to Piazza del Popolo; there are local buses (orange) outside the station if you want to avoid the walk.

There are several restaurants and bars in Lucera centro storico - including a few establishments speclalising in beers. If you want a restaurant meal, it would be sensible to have somewhere in mind, just hoping you will encounter somewhere is not enough. There are a couple of quite expensive places in Piazza Duomo; we ourselves favour the John Martin pub just opposite the Cattedrale, which does good food as well as beer and wine. Another option for a reliable, economical and traditional restaurant, popular with locals at lunchtime and in the evening, is underneath the Villa Imperiale Hotel just off Piazza el Popolo - there is no sign of the restaurant at the main hotel entrance, but just pop into their reception and ask for directions to the restaurant which is down two sets of stairs!

 

 

 

 

San Severo

Located to the north west of Foggia, and reputedly one of the last cities in Italy to remain pagan, San Severo was converted to Christianity in 536 by the Bishop of Siponto, resulting in the town being renamed, shedding its Greek heritage. The city benefited by being on the pilgrimage route to Monte Sant'Angelo and became a flourishing trade centre. In 1230 it flexed its muscles and successfully rebelled against Frederick II. Its rulers changed many times over the next few centuries. It eventually became part of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, and was incorporated into the unified Italy in 1860. There was a severe earthquake in 1627, and the subsequent reconstruction of key buildings was mainly in Baroque style.

Today San Severo is a busy commercial city (54,000 inhabitants), especially well known for its wine and olive production. Romanesque and baroque style buildings are dotted around the old central area. The heart of the centro storico is Piazza Municipio, which is quite small and not especially attractive. The Municipio itself is housed in the Palazzo Celestini, which forms one side of the piazza; this is a former monastery and contains rooms and decorations of considerable cultural interest, which can be visited just by getting permission to enter the offices.

Nearby is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, and there are various other churches in the area, the main ones being Chiesa di San Severino, Santuario della Madonna del Soccorso, Chiesa del Carmine.

One of the town's most famous buildings is the Teatro Comunale (Teatro Verdi) on Corso Garibaldi. The original early 19th Century theatre was rebuilt by the fascist regime and re-opened in 1936.

San Severo is the first big town encountered when approaching Puglia from the north by road and rail. If you are looking for a stopping off place north of Bari, it is of less interest than Foggia, and of much less interest than Trani. However, it is the base for transport links to the northern part of the Gargano peninsula, so is a convenient place to visit if heading to that area. It is well served by mainline trains. To reach the central area from the station, head straight from the entrance along Viale Matteotti (where there is a Saturday market) to the large Piazza Incoronazione which is dominated by a collection of tall palm trees. To the right of the piazza Via Tiberis Solis is a reasonable shopping area. If you turn left and then right along Via Soccorso, this takes you into the centro storico where most of the churches and palazzi can be seen.

San Severo seems to have more than its fair share of lively festivals, often including pyrotechnic displays even in the daytime. We have never experienced one of these but if you are in that area it may be worth checking out if there is anything happening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vico del Gargano

Nicknamed the “Village of Love”, Vico del Gargano is located in the north of the Gargano National Park, a few km inland from the coast. The nickname is derived from the town's patron saint, St. Valentine, an affiliation that has continued since the early 17th Century. Relics of St. Valentine are located in the 15th Century Chiesa Matrice.

A town of narrow winding streets and colourful doorways it boasts a number of churches and a castle, as well as the 'Alley of the Kiss', a tiny passageway which legend claims that whoever you walk into with, you will end up kissing!

The Museo Trappeto Maratea is an underground museum in an old olive press in a natural cave originally built in the 14th Century, with displays of local agricultural history.

Vieste

The Gargano peninsula, the "spur on the heel of the boot" of Italy, is quite different in physical character from the rest of Puglia. It has a mountainous interior, much of it forested, with a coastline consisting of limestone headlands separating sandy beaches.

Vieste is at the eastern end of the peninsula. It is the largest town in the Gargano, with a population of about 14,000. Its centro storico is on a headland overlooking the nearby harbour and beach areas, but although it has a distinctive character this older part of the city is close to and well integrated with the more modern central area.

 

Vieste - Centro Storico
Vieste

 

The name is thought to be because of early associations with the Roman goddess Vesta. The town was principally established by the Normans in the 11th century. It later became a stronghold of the Svevo (Swabian) emperor Frederck II, and subsequently came under the rule of the Angevins and Aragonese. The 15th and 16th centuries were dominated by attacks from the marauding Turkish forces. In 1646 there was a major earthquake which affected most of the key buildings of Vieste. A period of repressive Spanish rule was followed from 1737 by the Bourbon dynasty, during which Vieste flourished as a centre of agriculture, fishing and general cultural activity (Lorenzo Fazzini, after whom the main street is named, was a famous mathematician and intellectual in this period of enlightenment).  Vieste was only tangentially affected by the events of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It emerged into the post World War II period as a rather deprived outpost of the Italian "mezzogorno". This situation was dramatically reversed by the emergence of tourism as a major local industry and source of prosperity. A specific aspect of this was the construction by a visiting entrepreneur, Enrico Mattei, of one of Europe's first modern holiday complexes, at Pugnochiuso on the coast a short distance south of Vieste.

So today Vieste, with its sandy coves and access to the wooded interior of Gargano, has become a major tourist destination - with good quality camping and caravan sites, hotels, holiday villages etc. Road improvements have made it much more accessible than in the past. The city is a smart, well kept, relatively "up market" place, popular with Italian and foreign celebrities. The centre is lively and bustling, especially in the evening; packed in summer, holiday periods and festivals, it is also quite busy for most of the year.

The beaches with the best reputation (Baia di San Felice, Baia di Campi) are south of Vieste. There are places where there is public access to the sea, but, as in the rest of Italy, during the May to September period you may choose to pay at a lido, where for 6-15  euros a day you get a spot with sunbeds and an umbrella, can hire beach equipment and use on site bars and restaurants. During high season many of the lido spots are booked solid and you will probably have to get there early or make an advance reservation. Also car parking can be tricky along the coast in the busy summer months.

Vieste's most famous special feature is a rock called Pizzomunno, which is on Castello beach, a beautiful beach immediately south of the central area, overlooked by the centro storico.

Vieste - il Pizzo Munno
Vieste - il Pizzomunno

 

The rock is most impressive from the beach itself, close up. It is associated with an interesting legend. A young fisherman called Pizzomunno loved Cristalda, a local girl with long beautiful hair.  While out fishing, the sirens (sea goddesses) tried to seduce Pizzomunno with their singing, promising him great riches and everlasting life; but without success, he remained always faithful to Cristalda. However, one night while Pizzomunno and Cristalda were on the seashore, the sirens seized her and took her to the bottom of the sea. Pizzomunno tried desperately to save her, but failed; and in his pain and grief he changed into the rock tower that is there to this day. It is said that every hundred years, Cristalda returns from the sea and the lovers are re-united for one night - but nobody has witnessed this so far.

The bustling heart of Vieste is Corso Lorenzo Fazzini, which joins the attractive Giardinoi Pubblici and the seafront promenades around Piazza Kennedy - a five minute walk between them. A feature of the street is the crisp cream coloured Chiesa di Santa Croce. On one side of the Corso the streets slope upwards, most of them stepped, into the centro storico.(although this can also be reached without steps via a sloping street paralleling the Corso, Via Cesare Battista).

Vieste - Giardini Pubblici
Vieste - Giardini Pubblici
Vieste
Vieste - Chiesa Santa Croce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a tourist information office on Piazza Kennedy, open Monday to Saturday 8.00am until 2.00pm in the morning and 2.00pm until 8.00pm in the afternoon (that's what it says on the door!).

From the seafront promenade on the left beyond the piazza there is a good view of Il Faro, Vieste's lighthouse, on the nearby Isola Sant' Euphemia. The lighthouse was built in 1867 and sits on top of a building which in the past housed the lighthouse keepers (fanalista). The island is now uninhabited, the light is operated automatically. In 1987 a cave was discovered on the island containing 200 inscriptions in Greek and Latin dating from about the 3rd century BC.

Vieste - il Faro
Vieste - il Faro

 

 

Vieste
Vieste

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This part of the seafront is separated by a small headland from the large port and marina area, providing berths for numerous sailing and motor yachts and occasional cruise ships. This is also the base for two hour boat trips to view the coastal grottoes, and day long boat trips to the Isole Tremiti (if you want to visit the islands, a better bet is to go from Peschici or Rodi which are much nearer).

Vieste - il porto
Vieste - il porto

 

 

Don't miss a walk from Piazza Kennedy along Via Pola as far as the Chiesa San Francesco with its spectacular position on cliffs at the edge of the sea.  An original church on this site was destroyed in the wars against the Turks, but from 1546 a new church and convent was developed by the Franciscans, who rebuilt it after the massive earthquake of 1646. It has been renovated many times, most recently 2000-2012, and is the base for various religious processions and celebrations in Vieste. Just beyond the church is a trabucco (traditional wooden fishing platform); you are advised not to descend to this because the path is dangerous, but you can see it clearly (also other trabucchi at the bottom of the cliffs under the centro storico and in the port area).

Viesta - Chiesa di San Francesco e Santa Caterina
Viesta - Chiesa di San Francesco e Santa Caterina
Vieste - il trabucco
Vieste - il trabucco San Francesco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a particularly beautiful walkway from the church, looking down to the sea and up to the centro storico. This path leads into the centro storico, where you can walk up through narrow streets to the Castello,  a triangular fortress on top of the headland, another construction of Frederick II. It is a military establishment, closed to the public, although we have seen reference to guided tours in the evenings and it is used as the venue for special events. Unlike many similar castles in Puglia it is difficult to see much of its substantial exterior. The castle was damaged by shells from an Austrian warship on 24 May 1915, the day Italy entered the war. 

Vieste - Centro Storico
Vieste - Centro Storico
Vieste - Centro Storico
Vieste - Centro Storico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vieste - il Castello
Vieste - il Castello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just below Il Castello, La Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta occupies a sloping site in the heart of the centro storico, just rising out of the streets, no imposing piazza in front. Originally built in the XI century, it is one of the oldest Romanesque churches in Puglia, but has been extensively modified and maintained over the years, with the addition of a Baroque style bell tower in 1772 (the original tower collapsed).  It is well looked after to this day. Inside is a XVI century wooden sculpture Santa Maria di Merino, one of the two patron saints of Vieste - the statue was supposedly found by fishermen on a beach, followed by an argument (won by Vieste) as to whether it should come here or to Peschici.  Access to La Cattedrale involves a flight of steps in front of the entrance; it is closed from midday until 4.00pm. (Note - there is a stylish bar in an old building just across the narrow street from the entrance, which is open at lunchtime!).

 

Vieste - Cattedrale Santa Maria della Assunta
Vieste - Cattedrale Santa Maria della Assunta

 

 

Near La Cattedrale is the Chianca Amara (Sour Stone) which commemorates the sack of Vieste by the Turks in July 1554; some 5000 people were reputedly beheaded at this spot, mainly women, children and older people who could not be taken into slavery. Several coastal towns in Puglia (most famously Otranto) suffered similar atrocities, but this one seems to have been the most excessive.

On Via Pola, between Piazzale Kennedy and La Chiesa di San Francesco, is Vieste's famous Museo Malacologico, devoted to seashells - over 14,000 specimens from all over the world.  The museum is free (it is a private enterprise, and depends on sales and sponsorship). It is open April - September, when opening hours are 9.30am-12.30pm and 4.00pm-to 8.00pm, later still in the peak months, midnight in August.

There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in the town and the nearby beach resorts.

Vieste is an interesting place to visit, and if you want a beach based trip, this is likely to be your best option in the Gargano. It is easy enough to reach by road (under 3 hours from Bari), and there are places to park in and around the centre and in the beach areas, although they get full in summer. Roads throughout the Gargano are tortuous, so be ready to take your time.

It is also easy to reach by public transport. Buses run every couple of hours (less frequently on Sundays) between San Severo and Vieste - they call in at Peschici, the trip takes a couple of hours (about 30 minutes just from Peschici). This route can be covered by a combination of train and bus using the local railway run by Ferrovie del Gargano, which runs direct from Foggia, through San Severo to San Nicandra, Rodi and Peschici, a scenic route much of it overlooking the lagoons along the north cast of the Gargano.  The terminus of the railway is about four kilometres short of Pechici itself, at Peschici Calanella; buses to Vieste call in at this station and can be joined there or in Peschici. (NB Although the bus services and the train services in this area are all operated by Ferrovie del Gargano, you will need separate tickets for the bus and the train - these can be bought at the same time from any of the station ticket offices, bars or tabacchini which sell tickets).

DSC_0117

 

A SITA bus service connects Foggia and Vieste via Manfredonia. This travels on the twisting road along and above the coast between Manfredonia and Vieste, fantastic views and interest throughout - the whole trip takes about two and a half hours from Foggia.

SITA and FdG buses start from and arrive in Vieste at Piazzale Aldo Moro - a straight 10-15 minute walk along Via Papa Giovanni XXIII takes you from Piazzale Aldo Moro to the Giardini Pubblici and Corso Lorenzo Fazzini. Bus tickets for FdG can be bought at the Bar Aldo Moro; but although the SITA website says the bar also sells their tickets, we found this not to be the case, you have to get these from a bar about 300 metres along Via Papa Giovanni XXIII which now seems to have the SITA concession. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manfredonia

The Gargano peninsula, the "spur on the heel of the boot" of Italy, is quite different in physical character from the rest of Puglia. It has a mountainous interior, much of it forested, with a coastline consisting of limestone headlands separating sandy beaches.

Manfredonia describes itself as "the gateway to the Gargano", and that is accurate - it is not really part of the Gargano peninusula, but is intimately linked to it. It is a moderately large town (population about 57,000), a busy commercial and industrial centre - although a major glass factory there is currently facing an uncertain future. Located on the flat area bordering the Gulf of Manfredonia, it is overlooked by the high escarpment marking the edge of Gargano's interior (Monte Sant'Angelo can be clearly seen high up above Manfredonia). 

The city was established as a completely new entity in 1256-1263 by King Manfred of Sicily (a son of Frederick II) to replace the nearby ancient city of Siponto which had become disease ridden due to stagnant lagoons caused by an earthquake in 1223. The regular street pattern in the central area reflects this planned construction. However, in the 17th century, it was almost completely destroyed by the Turks, and most of the key buildings were built or rebuilt after that time. Manfredonia is very proud of its founder, who played a major role in the 13th century power struggles throughout Italy before being killed at the Battle of Benevento in 1266, where his army was defeated by Charles of Anjou (who was fighting on behalf of the Pope).  

Manfredonia - Piazzale Silvio Ferri
Manfredonia - modern statue of Re Manfredi in Piazzale Silvio Ferri

Manfredonia is only just beginning to make serious investment in tourism. Its main sights of historic and cultural interest are all part of a fabric of residential and commercial activity in its extensive central area. In this area and outside it, the overwhelming impression is of an active, working town just getting on with things. A new tourist information centre was opened in 2015, in Piazetta Mercato (just off Piazza del Popolo in the city centre). This is open 10.30am-12.30pm and 5.00pm-7.30pm every day except Sunday; it has a lot of information (including an especially useful street map) and helpful staff.  

The central area is big, a rectangle roughly 800 metres by 600metres, bounded by the seafront and the line of the old city walls, of which some parts, including a couple of towers, remain,  intermingled with shops and residences. The main street (Corso Manfredi) runs the length of the centre, from Piazza Marconi to Il Castello. Partly pedestrianised, this street contains shops and a few bars/cafes interspersed with18th century Baroque palazzi and churches (including the attractive Chiesa Stella Maris towards the castle end of the street). The Corso is quite lively in the evening, especially where it intersects with the main square, Piazza del Popolo.

Manfredonia - Corso Manfredi
Manfredonia - Corso Manfredi
Manfredonia - Chiesa Stella Maris
Manfredonia - Chiesa Stella Maris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The former church and convent of San Domenico forms an imposing background to Piazza del Popolo and now houses the local municipal offices. It was originally constructed at the end of the 13th century, but was destroyed by the Turks and rebuilt in the previous Gothic style in the 18th century. Enter the cloisters from the Piazza (NB this is a public building, so you may be questioned briefly by a guard). The cloisters are a small arcaded square with a well in the middle. At the far side of the cloisters, through some glass doors, is the entrance to the Capella dell Maddalena, which contains some frescoes dating back to the 13th century; the Capella houses a small display of pottery and other artefacts. 

 

Manfredonia - Piazza del Popolo
Manfredonia - Piazza del Popolo
Manfredonia - Convento di San Domenico
Manfredonia - Convento di San Domenico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Il Castello di Re Manfredi dominates one corner of the old city. It was built in 1265 as a solid rectangular fortress with towers and an internal courtyard, considerably extended with additional bastions by the Aragonese in the 15th century. Surrounded by a pleasant park, the castle today marks one end of the Corso Manfredi. Its impressive ramparts can be viewed from the outside. However, the inside is not open to visitors. It is undergoing an extensive and prolonged reconstruction programme, we have been unable to establish when this is due to be completed. The castle houses a National Archaeological Museum, which will presumably reopen when the work is finished. In the meantime a walk round the outside of the castle should not be missed if you are in Manfedonia.

Manfredonia - Piazzale Silvio Ferri
Manfredonia - Piazzale Silvio Ferri
Manfredonia - il Castello
Manfredonia - il Castello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the middle of the city, close to Piazza del Popolo, is Il Duomo, La Cattedrale di San Lorenzo Maiorano (a bishop of Siponto in the 5th century, one of the patron saints of Manfredonia).  The original church was built in the early 14th century, but destroyed when the city was attacked by the Turks in 1620, and rebuilt on a much more limited scale. It is still an enormous building. Unusually, the main entrance is half way along one side. The entrance facade and huge (but somewhat bleak) open space in front of the entrance were built in 1966, and commemorate Pope John XXIII. The adjacent campanile was erected by Cardinal Orsini in 1677. Inside the cathedral there are various icons and relics, including a wooden crucifix dedicated to San Leonardo; and the arm of San Lorenzo - the rest of his body was destroyed in the invasion by the Turks. There are also wall frescoes produced by a Milanese artist, Natale Penati, in 1940. The cathedral is usually open in the mornings and evenings. 

Manfredonia - la Cattedrale
Manfredonia - la Cattedrale
Manfredonia -  la Campanile
Manfredonia - la Campanile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manfredonia - la Cattedrale
Manfredonia - la Cattedrale

 

 

Manfredonia - la Cattedrale
Manfredonia - la Cattedrale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are various other palazzi and churches around the central area. They help give Manfredonia a certain elegance alongside its rather workaday image. There is surprisingly little made of the waterfront in the central area, it is covered with inaccessible port related buildings. You can get access to the sea at a beach just beyond the castle, but if you want to go swimming, we suggest looking for better options further up the coast (or maybe go the the Lido at Siponto).

Part of the commune of Manfredonia but 3-4 kilometres west of the old city is the resort area of Siponto. This was the main settlement in the area until Manfredonia itself was founded in the 13th century, occupied by Greeks, Romans (who called it Sipontum), Byzantines, Slavs, Turks, Normans, and Swabians. There are therefore a number of important archeological sites and museums in Siponto, interspersed with holiday development. A specific attraction is a nature resrve based on rush enclosed salt water lagoons, L'Oasi Lago Salso. Siponto is connected to Manfredonia centre by a new promenade, Lungomare del Sole. Both Siponto and the Lungmare del Sole are fairly desolate outside the main summer months, most of the properties are holiday residences, and the Lido at Siponto is closed for much of the year. 

Manfredonia -  il Lungomare del Sole
Manfredonia - il Lungomare del Sole

 

A large new marina has been built at the start of the Lungomare del Sole, just a few minutes walk from Piazza Marconi - this mainly functions in the summer and at weekends, has restaurants and bars, and is the base for boat excursions along the coast as far as Vieste).

An interesting feature of Manfredonia is a series of newly commissioned bronze sculptures dotted around the town. These include an octopus fountain in Piazza Marconi and a large depiction of King Manfred on horseback near Il Castello.

Manfredonia - statue in Larghetto del Carmine
Manfredonia - statue in Larghetto del Carmine
Manfredonia - il Lungomare
Manfredonia - il Lungomare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Places to eat and drink in the central area are not plentiful. There are a few bars along Corso Manfredi and in Piazza del Popolo. If you are looking for a restaurant and don't have somewhere specific in mind, there are some located on the streets immediately parallel to Corso Manfredi - Corso Roma and Via Maddalena.

Manfredonia is easy to reach by car, a dual carriageway links it to the autostrada at Foggia, about 40km in distance.

Public transport links with Foggia are good by bus, less good by train. We don't advise using the train. The service (which takes about 30 minutes) only runs a few times a day, solely in the early morning and late afternoon; and the station in Manfedonia is short of the city centre and the main transport hub on Piazza Marconi, necessitating a 5-10 minute walk along an unpleasant busy road. Trains do stop at the small railway station in Siponto if that is where you are heading. There is also a small tourist information centre at Manfredonia railway station.

Direct bus services run between Foggia (railway station) and Manfredonia (Piazza Marconi) roughly hourly, taking 45 minutes. Tickets can be bought in advance at several bars and bookshops in either place. Piazza Marconi is at one end of Corso Manfredi, so is the main spot for picking up buses in Manfredonia. As well as Foggia, there are bus services connecting Manfredonia with  Vieste (two hours) , San Giovanni Rotondo (an hour) and Monte Sant' Angelo (45 minutes). Tickets can be bought at the Bar Impero on the Piazza.
Buses for Foggia and San Giovanni  Rotondo leave from the bus shelter by the octopus statue; however, buses for Vieste and Monte Sant'Angelo leave from or call at a spot on the other side of the road, on the edge of a small roundabout, where there is no obvious bus stop or waiting area! If in doubt, ask someone (at the Bar or a bus driver, they are all very helpful).

DSC_0180

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monte Sant’Angelo

Monte Sant'Angelo is one of the two main Christian shrines in the Gargano and one of the most important in Europe. It has been a pilgrimage destination for centuries. The other main Gargano shrine is the much more recent centre dedicated to San (Padre)  Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo. These two places are a few kilometres apart on the edge of the escarpment bounding the south side of the Gargano and are frequently visited jointly. The Gargano peninsula, the "spur on the heel of the boot" of Italy, is quite different in physical character from the rest of Puglia. It has a mountainous interior, much of it forested, with a coastline consisting of limestone headlands separating sandy beaches.

It is a town of nearly 15,000 people, perched on the side of the limestone escarpment at a height of over 800 metres above sea level, looking out over the Gulf of Manfredonia and almost directly above the city of Manfredonia, from where it is clearly visible. Its commerce is related mainly to food and agriculture, but also to meeting the needs of the many tourists and pilgrims who come to the Santuario di San Michele Arcangelo. The older area around the Santuario in the highest part of the town is an attractive area of narrow streets, arches and steps; however the newer parts of Monte Sant'Angelo are somewhat ugly, despite the stunning location.

Monte Sant'Angelo - Via Castello
Monte Sant'Angelo - Via Castello

The Santuario is a complex of churches and altars set in large limestone caverns. It is the oldest shrine in Western Europe dedicated to St Michael the Archangel and is the main visitor attraction in Monte Sant'Angelo (the other main attractions are grouped nearby). It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010, a designation linked with several other places in Italy which represent the legacy of the Longobardi (Lombard) rule in the pre-Norman era.  

Towards the end of the 5th century AD, the cult of St. Michael the Archangel spread from the Middle East and Constantinople, where it was already well established, into the Gargano. The cave in the mountains where the shrine developed was already an established place of pagan worship. San Michele reputedly appeared three times there, in 490, 492 and 493 AD, promising to protect Siponto from its enemies and dedicating the cavern to Christian worship. This was duly done by the Bishop of Siponto and the church authorities, although since the "consecration" was according to the legend made by San Michele himself, this church is unique in that it has never been formally consecrated in the normal manner. It became a major shrine after the Longobardi  replaced Byzantine rule in the area in the 7th and 8th  centuries.  The complex of buildings on the site was largely constructed in the 13th century under Swabian rule. The grotto became a destination for pilgrims and crusaders, a popular stopping off place en route to Jerusalem. Another reputed appearance by St Michael during a plague attack in 1656 increased even further the reputation of Monte Sant'Angelo. 

The Santuario complex is located almost at the top of the hillside on which the town is built. It  is open to visitors:
     July – August: weekdays 7:30 at 19 and 30 and holidays from 07:00 at 20:00.
     April, May and October: weekdays from 7:30 at 12:30 and holidays from 07:00 to 13:00 and from 14:30 to 20:00.
     November – March: weekdays from 7:30 to 12:30 and from 14:30 to 18:00, and holidays from 07:00 to 13:00 and from 14:30 to 19:00.
There are frequent religious services when visiting may be restricted, and there are usually many visitors in groups, especially at weekends and on the special days of 29 September and 8 May. There is no charge to enter the Santuario, but you do have to pay a small amount to visit the museums inside. Photography is forbidden (the few on our site were taken with permission).

The main entrance is from Via Reale Basilica in the older part of the town.  There is a small courtyard in front of the double arcaded entrance - this dates originally from the 13th century, but was modified many times, most recently in 1895. The left hand doorway depicts the history of the Santuario; it was made in bronze to commemorate the visit by Pope John Paul II in 1987.

Monte Sant'Angelo - Santuario San Michele
Monte Sant'Angelo - Santuario San Michele
Monte Sant'Angelo - entrance to Santuario San Michele
Monte Sant'Angelo - entrance to Santuario San Michele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the right of the courtyard is the octagonal campanile, built by the Angevin emperor Charles I, although previously it was a watch tower established by Frederick II; finished in 1282, the campanile was originally 40 metres high but later reduced to 27 metres, and has six bells, the largest made in 1666.

Monte Sant'Angelo - il Campanile
Monte Sant'Angelo - il Campanile

 

 

Through the entrance is a magnificent staircase going down to the grottoes, 86 steps, decorated with various statues, inscriptions etc. This was constructed in the 13th century to give access to the grotto churches below and is the main way in and out (NB there is a lift for those who need it). At the bottom of the stairs the entrance to the grotto churches themselves is via a 13th century portal with bronze doors made much earlier in Constantinople in 1076, donated by a rich family from Amalfi (who made similar gifts to other churches in Italy), depicting Old and New Testament scenes in 24 panels. 

In the largest cavern is the Cappella del Santissimo Sacramento, decorated in an essentially Baroque style from the 17th century onwards.  In a silver and glass case is a small marble statue of San Michele by Andrea Contucci, also known as Sansovino; it has been in the grotto since 1507, and is very much its symbol. Permission to make miniature reproductions of St. Michael was limited to a special class of local sculptors called sammecalère, who are responsible for the many variations on Contucci's original, each slightly different from the next. In a separate grotto off the main cavern is the oldest altar in the complex, dedicated to Madonna del Perpetuo Soccorso, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In a separate cavern is the new Capella Penitenzia, which was constructed to celebrate the Third Millenium. The complex also contains two museums as well as various specialist chapels, offices and meeting rooms.

Monte Sant'Angelo - la Grotta di San Michele
Monte Sant'Angelo - la Grotta di San Michele

 

 

Monte Sant'Angelo - la Grotta di San Michele
Monte Sant'Angelo - la Grotta di San Michele
Monte Sant'Angelo - la Grotta di San Michele
Monte Sant'Angelo - la Grotta di San Michele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Santuario entrance a short walk uphill takes you to the Castello. Recent evidence indicates this may have been the site of an Iron Age fort. The castle was originally built by Orso I, Bishop of Benevento and Siponto in the 9th century to defend the nearby Santuario. It was developed into a part of the defensive city wall system in the second half of the 11th century by the Normans, especially Roberto il Guiscardo. Subsequently, like many other castles in this part of Italy, it was extended by Frederick II to become part of the major defence system he created in Puglia. However, it was also a royal residence for his four wives, including Bianca Lancia di Torino, who gave birth there to Manfredi (who went on to play a major role in Italian history and to found Manfredonia).

Monte Sant'Angelo - il Castello
Monte Sant'Angelo - il Castello

After the Angevins defeated the Swabian Manfredi at the battle of Benevento in 1236, they took control of the castle and used it mainly as a prison for aristocrats. Later under Aragonese rule in the 15th century, it was developed into its current form so as to be able to deal with new weapons such as gunpowder and played its part in defending the Gargano against the Turks. It subsequently passed though a series of ownerships, closely associated with the church, and was almost destroyed in the 19th century before being bought by the Commune of Monte Sant'Angelo in 1907. Since 1994, it has been well restored, with a series of interesting displays inside; open 9.30am - 1.00pm, 2.30pm-7.00pm every day, charge 5 euros. For no charge you can go across the main entrance bridge, view the outside of the fortress and enjoy the fantastic vista over the sea and inland.

 

 

 

Monte Sant'Angelo - il Castello
Monte Sant'Angelo - il Castello

A few steps opposite the entrance to the Santuario is the third major historic and architectural feature of Monte Sant'Angelo. It consists jointly of the remains of La Chiesa di San Pietro; the baptistery known as San Giovanni in Tumba or La Tomba di Rotari (the Tomb of Rothari); and the mediaeval church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The group of buildings is open to the public only from Easter until mid October, 10.00am-1.00pm and 3.15pm-7.00pm; there is a (theoretically voluntary) charge of 1 euro to enter the site.

La Chiesa di San Pietro was built in the 12th century, the oldest church in this area, but evidence suggests that there was an even earlier church on its site. It was demolished in 1894, leaving only a few remains, in particular the dominant domed apse containing eleven niches symbolizing the Apostles - the bigger central niche belongs to San Pietro.

Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di San Pietro - Tomba di Rotari
Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di San Pietro - Tomba di Rotari

 

 

 

On the left of the apse of San Pietro is the entrance to San Giovanni in Tumba. This is popularly known as La Tomba di Lotari; however, this seems to be a misinterpretation of the term "tumba" meaning "dome" on an inscription inside. There is little evidence that the Lombard king is buried here at all, although he does seem to have expressed a wish for this to happen, and some ancient records say he actually was. It is nevertheless a reminder of the significance of the Longobardi (Lombards) in this area. Rotari, Duke of Brescia, became King of the Longobardi in 636. The Longobardi were militarily active (hence their special link with San Michele as a warrior Archangel). Rotari led numerous campaigns and brought much of  Italy under Lombard rule as Byzantine power weakened. He is especially associated with an edict of 643 which provided written codification of Lombard law (previously based on oral traditions). This edict was also innovatory in many respects, including introducing monetary compensation as an alternative to revenge as a means of resolving disputes; and specific limitations on use of the death penalty. It is maybe a pity Rotari is apparently not buried here, but he seems someone worth knowing about anyway!

The building is quite complicated in structure - a rectangle supports an octagon which supports an elipse which supports a dome. It was mainly built in the 11th century, probably on an ancient burial site. There is an empty sarcophagus in the rock near the entrance. There are decayed frescoes on the walls, and various wall carvings and features which are of considerable specialist interest, notably a depiction of Christ being taken down from the cross based on an account by Nicodemus rather than any of the main gospel writers; and old testament scenes unusual in Christian churches. It is thought that this building may have been the original San Pietro, and when the (now demolished) church was built next door, the pre-existing building was incorporated as its battisteria and redesignated San Giovanni. 

The third element of the San Pietro complex is La Chiesa Santa Maria Maggiore. This is the oldest church in Monte Sant'Angelo, and is regarded locally as the city's main church. There is evidence of a church on the site as long ago as 300AD, but the cuurent building dates from the 11th century, with major extensions and renovations in 1200 by Constanza d'Altavilla, the mother of Frederick II. The church is in Romanesque style, with three naves. There are Byzantine frescoes on the walls, and also one commemorating the visit of San Francesco d'Assisi in 1216.

Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore
Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore
Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore
Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore
Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore
Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore
Monte Sant'Angelo - Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those interested in churches for any reason, Monte Sant'Angelo has a lot on offer, not surprisingly. There are several in the older part of the city and can easily be visited, although they are frequently not open. One which can easily be seen in conjunction with a visit to the Santuario is La Chiesa della Madonna della Libera, located in a small courtyard through an arch immediately to the right of the Santuario main entrance. This is a small and attractive church, built in 1879 on the site of an ancient cemetery, and very well maintained to this day. As well as altars and wall decorations, the church contains statues of Sant'Anna and Santa Lucia.

Monte Sant'Angelo can easily be reached by car, leaving the autostrada A14 at Foggia or San Severo and going via San Giovanni Rotondo - roads in the Gargano generally are often narrow and winding, but this route is less "challenging"  than the road up the side of the escarpment from Manfredonia. There is a large (pay) car park close to the Santuario and Castello.

There are (mainly SITA) bus links a few times a day with Foggia (railway station), Manfredonia (Piazza Marconi) and San Giovanni Rotondo.  Buses from Foggia go via Manfredonia, and the trip from there up the escarpment is a pretty exciting 30 minutes or so. Until very recently the bus terminus in Monte Sant'Angelo was in the middle of the town at Piazza Duc d'Aosta, not too far from the main attractions. However, it has now been moved to Viale Kennedy, which is very inconveniently situated a long way from where you want to be. (NB This move, to reduce pollution in the town centre, is still controversial, so may be changed). From the new bus stop, go back to the roundabout, turn right and walk up the road for a couple of hundred metres, then turn left at the Post Office into Via Manfredi - then just keep walking steadily uphill for about 20/25 minutes until you reach the old town area.  There is a minibus service which connects the bus terminus to the town centre and the old town, but we have not been able to find any reliable details of this.

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