A summary of Puglia's long and varied history


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Puglia’s history, like that of so many parts of southern Italy, is a tangled web indeed! Its strategic position and its fertile soil made it an attractive proposition for colonization and all the usual suspects, Mediterranean and non, invaded at one time or another. While exploitation was usually the name of the game, each conqueror bequeathed a cultural, architectonic and gastronomic patrimony whose fascinating eclecticism remains for all to see.

Here below is a brief summary of Puglia's multifaceted history:

1st millennium BC – Illyric and Italic peoples settle.

8th century BC – Greeks from Sparta begin to arrive, reaching the south-eastern tip and the Gulf of Taranto, where they found Tarentum, amongst others.

272BC - the Romans oust the Greeks and rapidly colonise the region. Wheat, olive oil and wine are produced en masse to help feed the mouths of the expanding empire.

216 BC - Hannibal crushes Roman forces at Cannae in Puglia (one of their worst ever defeats) during the Second Punic War, but the Romans eventually retain control of the region, which continues to thrive as an agricultural centre and trading post for the east.

190BC - the Romans complete the Via Appia, linking Rome with Puglia. The amphitheatre in Lecce dates from around 100 years later.

476 AD - fall of the Roman Empire.

488 AD - Italy and Puglia fall under the control of the Ostrogoths.

6th century - the Lombards arrive, establishing a short-lasting Kingdom of Italy. Puglia is in Byzantine hands until the 11th century, notwithstanding occasional Saracen incursions. The island town of Gallipoli is fortified.

1059 - Robert Guiscard, a Norman, forms the Duchy of Apulia. Later in the century the Normans conquer Sicily where they establish their power base. Puglia becomes a provincial outpost under Norman rule.

1087 - Sailors bring the relics of San Nicola to Bari and the Basilica di San Nicola is built in this period.

1200 circa - Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, aka “Stupor Mundi” inherits Puglia, where he spends much of his time when away from Sicily. His enlightened reign sees a flourishing of the arts and a period of relative peace and prosperity. Many of his castles, such as Castello Svevo in Trani and Castel del Monte in Andria, survive, along with some wonderful Romanesque constructions such as the Cattedrale di San Sabino in Bari.

13th century - the French Angevins arrive and Puglia becomes part of the Kingdom of Naples.

1480 - a Turkish force under the command of Gedik Ahmed Pasha lays siege to Otranto. On capturing the town, all male inhabitants over the age of 15 (numbers in the 1000s) are killed. The aging Archbishop, refusing to renounce his faith, is cut into pieces in public and his decapitated head paraded through the town on a pike.

1500 – King Ferdinand V of Aragon takes the reins and Otranto, Bari and Taranto are fortified against Turkish invasions.

1713 – the Treaty of Utrecht grants Puglia to Austria

1734  - the Spanish defeat Austria at the Battle of Bitonto and reclaim Puglia as their own. The Turks and the Venetians attack repeatedly hoping to gain a foothold in the region.

1806-1815 – the French take control, abolishing feudalism and reforming the justice system.

1861 - Puglia joins the united Italy during the Risorgimento.

1922 - Mussolini intensifies the production of grain, olives and wine as Italy attempts to become self-sufficient.

1943 - the Allied invasion ousts German forces, and the ports of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto undergo heavy bombing from both sides.

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