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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Puglia (Apulia)

The heel to Italy’s boot, the region of Puglia (called Apulia in English) meets the shores of both the Ionian and Adriatic seas. With hundreds of km of coastline, Puglia might initially seem like an obvious tourist attraction but for whatever reason, compared to other regions in Italy, tourism here is relatively slow. This could actually make for an incredible travel experience without the crowds and the noise.

The province of Bari is home to an important seaport and the region’s capitol, a city where modernization grew around a traditional city center instead of replacing it. With its historical churches and annual festival (Fiera del Levante is one of Italy’s most popular fairs), the city of Bari is definitely worth a visit. However, if time is limited, a definite on the “must see in Puglia” list should surely be Castel del Monte. Still within the province of Bari, this castle could be one of the most fascinating in Italy if only for its incredible form. Construction began in 1240 by order of Emperor Frederick II of Swabia. The number eight must have been the inspiration for this castle, seeing as it recurs all throughout the structure: on the first two floors, eight rooms overlook an octagonal courtyard guarded by eight towers. The builders successfully blended several styles and influences—Romanesque, Classical, Gothic, and Muslim—together to make it a truly exceptional work of architecture.

A relatively short trip from Bari is Alberobello, a very interesting town that would make for a great day trip. Here, in the midst of the Itria Valley, can be found the highest concentration of a unique, ancient form of habitation: the Trulli. Trulli are cleverly constructed buildings with limestone walls and circular roofs topped with white cones. No one knows for sure why Trulli were built in the first place but there are plenty of theories, such as deforestation and large quantities of limestone. Trulli are such a distinctive mark of the region, of Italy even, that the United Nations has named Alberobello a World Heritage Site. Should a traveler have the urge to spend the night in one of these structures, there is actually a website that offers the opportunity to do just that:

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