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Bari, the town of Saint Nicholas

PUGLIA'S TOWNS AND CITIES

Villas in Puglia near Bari >>

Bari While not always the first town visitors go to see in Puglia, Bari, the regional capital, has plenty to offer and is well worth spending time in.

For millennia, Bari has been an busy commercial centre and trading port. It first came to prominence under the Romans who developed it into one of the most important towns on the Adriatic. This status was confirmed in 109AD when Emperor Trajan diverted the existing Via Appia so that it would pass through the city, essentially provincialising Taranto and elevating Bari to its present status as Puglia's capital.

During Byzantine rule, which lasted, on and off, for around 500 years after the fall of Rome, Bari became inextricably linked to the eastern Mediterranean, as the town's port became a fulcrum of the slave trade which saw thousands of east Europeans sent to Turkey and other countries in the Middle East. Later Bari became a major point of departure for the Crusades.

This connection to the near orient continues today and since 1930 Bari has played host to one of the Mediterranean's most prestigious trade fairs, the Fiera del Levante. It is worth adding, also, that Bari is the busiest passenger port in the Adriatic, with regular ferry links to the Balkans and Greece. 

Bari boasts a long seafront promenade which leads from Bari Vecchia to the more modern shopping district, built on an octagonal plan in the early 19th century by Joachim Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law.

The Levant has also suffused the city's religious history and until 1025, when Byzantine rule ended, Bari came under the episcopal jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Later in the same century, under Norman rule, came Bari's defining historical moment: the arrival of the relics of San Nicola. The saint's original resting place, Myra in Lycia (part of modern-day Turkey), had come under Muslim control and so sailors from Bari and Venice set out to retrieve his mortal remains. The Puglians arrived first and brought back his relics to Bari on 9th May 1087. Needing a suitable depository for their newly acquired venerable objects, the townsfolk immediately began work on what would become the city's most important building: the Basilica di San Nicola.

The Basilica we see today dates back to the end of the 12th century and is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. It is the focal point of Bari Vecchia (the old town) and receives thousands of pilgrims from all over the world each year, including a great many Greek and Russian Orthodox visitors. Of particular note is the Festa di San Nicola, which runs from 7th-9th May each year in celebration of the arrival of the saint's relics in Bari... Not to be missed if you're in the area!

Bari Vecchia is a fascinating weave of streets that, until around 10 years ago, was considered a no-go area by the locals (note to football fans: this is where Antonio Cassano grew up!). A radical clean-up operation, however, has transformed it into a wonderful area for strolling, full of cafés, bars and restaurants. Just a short walk from Piazza San Nicola are Bari's other major architectural attractions: the Cattedrale di San Sabino, also built in a late 12th century Romanesque style by the Normans, and the Castello Svevo, Emperor Frederick II's mighty fortress.

Bari boasts a long seafront promenade which leads from Bari Vecchia to the more modern shopping district, built on an octagonal plan in the early 19th century by Joachim Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law.

For opera lovers, a trip to Bari should include a night at the Teatro Petruzzelli, the fourth largest opera house in Italy, after the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, La Scala in Milan and the San Carlo in Naples. Originally built in the mid-19th century, it was almost completely destroyed in 1991 by a fire that broke out after a performance of Bellini's Norma. After years of restoration it was reopened in 2009.

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