Bari, the must-visit city of Puglia, near Salento
Bari is made up of four different urban sections. To the north is the closely built old town on the peninsula between two modern harbours, with the splendid Basilica of Saint Nicholas, the Cathedral of San Sabino (1035–1171) and the Swabian Castle built for Frederick II, which is now also a major nightlife district. To the south is the Murat quarter (erected by Joachim Murat), the modern heart of the city, which is laid out on a rectangular grid-plan with a promenade on the sea and the major shopping district (the via Sparano and via Argiro).
Modern residential zones surround the centre of Bari, the result of chaotic development during the 1960s and 1970s replacing the old suburbs that had developed along roads splaying outwards from gates in the city walls. In addition, the outer suburbs have developed rapidly during the 1990s. The city has a redeveloped airport named after Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła Airport, with connections to several European cities.
Places to visit
Basilica of Saint Nicholas
The Basilica di San Nicola (Saint Nicholas) was founded in 1087 to receive the relics of this saint, which were brought from Myra in Lycia, and now lie beneath the altar in the crypt, where are buried the Topins, which are a legacy of old thieves converted to good faith. The church is one of the four Palatine churches of Apulia (the others being the cathedrals of Acquaviva delle Fonti and Altamura, and the church of Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano).
Bari Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Sabinus of Canosa (San Sabino), was begun in Byzantine style in 1034, but was destroyed in the sack of the city of 1156. A new building was thus built between 1170–1178, partially inspired by that of San Nicola. Of the original edifice, only traces of the pavement are today visible in the transept. An important example of Apulian Romanesque architecture, the church has a simple Romanesque façade with three portals; in the upper part is a rose window decorated with monstruous and fantasy figures. The interior has a nave and two aisles, divided by sixteen columns with arcades. The crypt houses the relics of Saint Sabinus and the icon of the Madonna Odigitria. The interior and the façade were redecorated in Baroque style during the 18th century, but these additions were deleted in the 1950s restoration.
The Norman-Hohenstaufen Castle, widely known as the Castello Svevo (Swabian Castle), was built by Roger II of Sicily around 1131. Destroyed in 1156, it was rebuilt by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. The castle now serves as a gallery for a variety of temporary exhibitions in the city.
The Russian Church
The Russian Church, in the Carrassi district of Bari, was built in the early 20th century to welcome Russian pilgrims who came to the city to visit the church of Saint Nicholas in the old city where the relics of the saint remain. Built on a large area of council-owned land, the city council and Italian national government were recently involved in a trade-off with the Putin government in Moscow, exchanging the piece of land on which the church stands, for, albeit indirectly, a military barracks near Bari’s central railway station. The hand over was seen as building bridges between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches.
Barivecchia, or Old Bari, is a sprawl of streets and passageways making up the section of the city to the north of the modern Murat area. Barivecchia was until fairly recently considered a no-go area by many of Bari’s residents due to the high levels of petty crime. A large-scale redevelopment plan beginning with a new sewerage system and followed by the development of the two main squares, Piazza Mercantile and Piazza Ferrarese has seen the opening of many pubs and other venues. This has been welcomed by many who claim that the social life of the city, and in particular the experience for tourists in Bari, has been improved and that jobs and revenue have been created. Others point out the effects of late-night noise in the enclosed squares and criticise development based mainly on pubs and other such premises.
Se Parigi avesse il mare, sarebbe una piccola Bari’ (if Paris had the sea, it would be a little Bari). This popular saying tells you more about the local sense of humour than it does about the city, but Bari has a surprising amount of charm, particularly Barivecchia, its increasingly chic medieval old town.
Fiera del Levante
The Fiera del Levante is said to be the largest trade fair in the Adriatic and involves exhibitions from many sectors and industries. Held in September in the Fiera site on the west side of Bari city centre, the Fiera attracts many exhibitors from Italy, around the Mediterranean, its trade corridors to the east and beyond. Mainly focused on agriculture and industry, there are also stalls, exhibitions and presentations by a wide variety of compaines and organisations in many fields. There is also a “Fair of Nations” which displays handcrafted and locally produced goods from all over the world. This year’s Fiera also saw an “Expo Fishing” which brought together fishing methods, tackle and know-how from across the Mediterranean.
Bari’s cuisine, one of Italy’s most traditional and noteworthy, is based on three typical agricultural products found within the surrounding Puglia region, namely wheat, olive oil and wine. Bari cuisine is also enriched by the wide variety of fruit and vegetables produced locally. Local flour is used in homemade bread and pasta production including, most notably, the famous orecchiette hat-shaped pasta, recchietelle or strascinate, chiancarelle (orecchiette of different sizes) and cavatelli.
Homemade dough is also used for baked calzoni stuffed with onions, anchovies, capers and olives; fried panzerotti with mozzarella, simple focaccia alla barese with tomatoes, little savoury taralli, friselle and sgagliozze, fried slices of polenta all make up the Bari culinary reportoire.
Olive oil and garlic are widely in use. Vegetable minestrone, chick peas, broad beans, chickory, celery and fennel are also often served as first courses or side dishes.
Meat dishes and the local Barese ragù often include lamb, pork and often horse meat, considered something of a local delicacy. Pasta al forno, a baked pasta dish, is very popular in Bari and was historically a Sunday dish, or a dish used at the start of Lent when all the rich ingredients such as eggs and pork had to be used for religious reasons. The recipe commonly consists of penne or similar tubular pasta shapes, a tomato sauce, small beef and pork meatballs and halved hard boiled eggs; but different families have variations. The pasta is then topped with mozzarella or similar cheese and then baked in the oven to make the dish have its trademark crispy texture.
Bari, being the capital of an important fishing area, offers a range of fresh fish and seafood, often eaten raw. Octopus, sea urchins and mussels feature heavily. Indeed, perhaps Bari’s most famous dish is the oven-baked Riso, patate e cozze (rice, with potatoes and mussels).
Bari and its province, not to mention the Puglia region has a range of notable wines including Primitivo, Castel del Monte and Moscato di Trani.