Puglia's towns and cities

Martina Franca, the capital of the Valle d'Itria

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Martina Franca | Guide to Puglia | Think PugliaAn exploration of the lovely Valle d’Itria (trulli country!) would not be complete without a visit to Martina Franca, the largest town in the area.

More buzzing than its three illustrious neighbours, Alberobello, Locorotondo and Cisternino, it has long been the commercial centre of the area, ever since Philip of Anjou granted it tax free status and various other privileges in 1310. 

With Franca now appended to its name, old Martina was soon attracting new residents, including noble families and businessmen. Elegant palaces (at least 20 of note) and churches (over 15) began springing up throughout the old centre, testimony to the new-found wealth that was flowing into the town.

Until the reunification of Italy in 1861, Martina Franca was a fully walled town, with 24 towers and four gates. As it evolved to cater for more modern requirements, however, some of these towers were removed and other access roads punched into the walls. However, the four Renaissance and Baroque gates still exist, effectively delineating the old town from the more modern 19th century part of town, which also has some fine buildings and a shady park.

Opposite the park is the wide, tree-lined expanse of Piazza XX Settembre, which leads through the Porta di Santo Stefano (one of the four gates) into Piazza Roma, home to the impressive 17th century Palazzo Ducale. From here it is a short walk through the narrow streets to Piazza Plebiscito, the true heart of the town and backdrop to its masterpiece, the delightful Basilica di San Martino. Its intricate, sandy-coloured, über-Baroque façade is extremely fine, especially when illuminated by the evening sun.

From this splendid piazza, we recommend you just follow your nose and soak up the atmosphere, stopping off, perhaps, for refreshments in one of the many outdoor cafés… You won’t be sorry you came!

One thing you must try or buy before leaving Martina Franca is some capocollo, a kind of cured ham that is the pride of the town. Mention it to any local and their faces will light up!

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 1/8 The pure baroque facade of the Basilico di San Martino in Martina Franca...  2/8 ...with its intricate carvings.  3/8 The town hall in Martina Franca.  4/8 Another shot of the splendid Basilica di San Martino.  5/8 An impious pigeon in Martina Franca!  6/8 Porta di Santo Stefano, one of Martina Franca's four town gates.  7/8 Piazza Roma in Martina Franca.  8/8 A view of the Basilica from a nearby square.