>>>In the heart of the Mediterranean

In the heart of the Mediterranean

When you have the likes of Rome and Venice to compete with, you could easily be ignored. But not so Apulia. Its history, legends and coastline make it impossible to miss.
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0 million olive trees, many of them 1,000 years old or more, are spread over the six provinces of Apulia: Bari, Barletta-Andria-Tranni, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce and Tarento. Legend has it that the trees were planted by southern Italian women at the time of the Crusades. Abandoned by their sea-faring husbands, they fell into the arms of the crusaders and their penance for each act of infidelity was to plant an olive. Twisted and knotted, today these olive trees make up the landscape of this region that forms the “high heel” on the “boot” of Italy. Apulia in Italian is Puglia which comes from “apuglia”, or lack of rain. These are dry lands but have 860 kilometres of coastline between two seas, the Adriatic and the Ionian.
Ostuni is the only city in Itria valley that is bordered by the sea.

Dancing is the remedy

Apulia rings to the sound of the tarantella and dances to its rhythm. Similar to the Sicilian pizzica, the tarantella takes its name from the province of Tarento and it refers to the sting of the tarantula spider. Women who were stung by the spider would dance as a way of controlling the convulsions that the poison produced. The legend lives on today in this fascinating dance.

The location in the heart of the Mediterranean made Apulia a crossroads for merchants, monks and crusaders en route to the Holy Land. The region suffered lootings and invasions – by the Turks in the 16th century, for example – and much of the coastline is dotted with castles and defensive walls. The city of Acaya, in the province of Lecce, preserves a walled castle built on the orders of Charles V. This Italian-Spanish connection is reflected in the colours of the local football team, yellow and red, the same as those of the Spanish flag. Gurther inland, Lecce is known as the Florence of the South. This small university city, capital of the province of the same name, has little to envy the “Florence of the North”. In one of its squares, that of San Orenzo, the buildings are of three styles: Roman – including a Roman amphitheatre – barroque, and fascist architecture. A diverse cultural heritage so typical of the whole of Apulia.
In addition to Lecce and Acaya, Apulia has other cities that boast a rich artistic heritage. From Gargano in the far north to Salento in the south there are Roman and Barroque remains throughout the region. The museums and arqueological treasures from the past are matched by a tradition of craftwork that flourishes today. Basketwork and clay products in Bari, ceramics in Tarento, or hand-made paper and stone work in Salento.
A great attention to detail is the hallmark of the white towns of the Itria valley, which runs through all three of the Pugliesi provinces, Bari, Brindisi, and Tarento. The whitewashed streets of Ostuni, Locorotondo and Alberobello recall those of a Greek island. Alberobello, in the province of Bari, is known as the city of the Trulli, a dry-limestone hut without mortar or cement. The trulli are typical buildings in rural areas, used to store farm implements. They survive today thanks to their conical slate roofs.
Bari is the city with the highest population in Apulia.
Bari is capital both of the province of the same name and also of all Apulia. In the narrow streets of the historic centre, small craft workshops live side by side with elegant buildings. It makes a good departure point for getting to know the towns along the coastline, washed by the waters of the Adriatic. Crystal clear waters, fine grain sands, and stunning cliffs. For picture postcard views, those of Salento and all the Ionian Arc. Two seas and hundreds of battles and legends lie in wait for any who take a chance on the South.
Orecchietti pasta is usually prepared with vegetables, or accompanied with tomato and cottage cheese.
Photo: Viaggiare in Puglia. ©Carlos Solito

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