Apulia is essentially Italy’s boot heel. It is the gateway to the East and even though it fell to different conquerors throughout its history, these conquerors chose to live elsewhere with the exception of Frederick II who ruled from 1194 to 1250. The castles he built and the vast plantations of olive groves and vineyards during this reign continue to exude their beauty even in modern day Italy. Apulia is important to the economy of Italy because it produces one-tenth of all the wine drunk in Europe. Local food artisans have also mastered the art of manufacturing first rate oils and vintages that complement fresh seafood and vegetables.
Geographically, Apulia borders the Adriatic Sea to the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Gulf of Taranto and Strait of Òtranto to the south. The regions importance in the 20th century is attached to the fact that it was the scene of the last phases of the Second Punic War. This region is characterized by succeeding broad plains and low lying hills. The only mountainous areas are the Monti Dauni and the Gagano promontory.
The history of Apulia dates back to ancient times when the southern peninsula was still referred to as Calabria. Due to this long history, Apulia is one of the few regions with archeological findings from 1000BC when the Italic and Illyric peoples settled in the area. Later on when the Greeks settled at Terras, Greek influences began spreading and replacing native Apulian culture.
During the 3rd and 4th century BC, ancient Romans conquered it as they battled against the Pyrrhus and Samnites. Following the Roman defeat against the Carthaginians, the region fell under Roman domination. When the Roman Empire fell, the Goths, Lombards, and Byzantines took control of the territory until the 11th century when it fell to Normans. As the Norman expansion engulfed Italy, Apulia became a province under the Kingdom of Sicily before being transferred to the Kingdom of Naples where it stayed until the Turks and Venetians occupied its coast in the 18th century.
The liberation movements of the 19th century which led to the fall of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies also led to the unification of Apulia with Italy. However, despite numerous reforms, the characteristic Apulian architecture with Greek, Norman, Arab and Pisan influences from the 11th to 13th centuries can still be deciphered in public buildings, castles, and churches.
As a tourist destination, Apulia appeals to those who prefer areas which are less crowded. A trail of archeological museums and cathedrals that date back to the 10th century in addition to deserted Greek and Roman ruins offer an excellent insight into the region’s history. The lively fishing villages, medieval hill towns, and beaches as well as Europe’s largest forests dot the Apulian landscape.
Interplay between the ancient native cultures and the invading cultures have yielded a unique subspecies of architecture referred to as barocco leccese. This style comprises of ornate carvings covering the entire surfaces of palazzi and churches. One other characteristic feature is the i trulli; which are whitewashed cones created by holding stones together without using mortar. They are constructed in olive groves and wheat fields to serve as barns, but when hundreds are clustered together they form a miniature picturesque town. Alberobello is one region where these whitewashed cones can be found on every conceivable piece of land.
Bari is the capital of the Apulia region, located on the Adriatic Sea. The town consists of three sections. The old town, is not only a popular nightlife district, it is also where you will find the historic sites like the Basilica of San Nicola (Father Christmas), the Cathedral of San Sabino, and the Swabian Castle. The Murattiano is the heart of the town along the seafront and a major shopping district. The third section encompasses the surrounding areas. Today, Bari makes for a good base to explore the region or catch a ferry to Greece.
A hidden gem 40K north-west of Bari, along the Adriatic coast, is the seaport of Trani. It is a town with great history as one of the main southern ports on the Adriatic throughout the Middle Ages, and where the earliest written modern maritime code, the Ordinamenta Maris, was drafted in 1063. Its a compact and easily manageable town, and is a good base to explore this part of Apulia, including Barletta, Molfetta and the Castel del Monte. When in Trani, be sure to visit the Ghetto area as it remains much as it was in the medieval period.
The Trulli area is in the Itria Valley and extends from Conversano and Gioia del Colle in the west to Ostuni and Martina Franca in the east. The greatest concentration of trulli houses is in and around Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Trulli’s are circular, conical-roofed white-washed houses built of stone without mortar. Their pinnacle roofs are tiled with concentric rows of grey slate and often painted with astrological or religious symbols.
Located on the Salento peninsula, Lecce has often been called the Florence of Apulia because of the quantity of important monuments. Italians also refer it as Barocco Leccese (Lecce Baroque for its refined and particular Baroque architecture. The most celebrated examples of Lecce Baroque is the Basilica della Santa Croce with its extraordinarily ornate façade. Piazza del Duomo rivals the Basilica with its splendor.