Back in January, while building my itinerary for the Apulia coast, my next overnight after Barletta would be Bari. Per Gcatholic, there are 5 ex-, co- or pro-cathedrals just along the coast. I picked the midpoint, Molfetta, and began trying to find a place to day-store my bag. An enterprising B&B worker, on learning my interest in cathedrals, offered to drive me to several for a fee. I worked out, over a series of emails, a route and schedule that would work with his Sunday schedule.
In Barletta at the B&B, I was up at 7:30, downstairs and checking out before 8, and had reached the train station by 8:20. The train to Trani would leave in 5 minutes of when I got to the platform. A 15km journey, I was barely settled when we pulled into the #Trani station.
I exited to the north of the tracks, out onto the plaza and around a fountain when my phone rang. Vincenzo was leaving Molfetta, and would rendezvous at the cathedral, as we’d planned. I should look for a white Fiat Panda.
The walk to the cathedral took 20 minutes, and I began scoping the exterior out for light and angles. It wouldn’t open until 9, when I could put my bag in Vincenzo’s car, so I just rolled around a bit on the Piazza Duomo. Right on time, a white Fiat zipped into the plaza and over to parking, and I rolled up to its rear. Mid-twenties, half a head shorter than me, full head of bushy black hair, and a smile for days, I knew we’d get along great. We got the bag into the rear, and I began my pictures.
The 12th century Romanesque Basilica Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino sits in a large clear space at the end of a spit into the sea with unobstructed views west, north and east. A bell tower sits in the southwest corner. From the plaza, the west entry has two levels: an undercroft reached through an arch that is sets of stairs for climbing to the main door and porch. There, eight rounded blank arches are split on either side of the large central arch; small wooden double doors are in the second arch from the sides, and the much larger double doors enter into the nave. In the top half, three windows in arches provide light, and a central rose window is positioned above them. At the eastern end, the transept rises to the full height of the nave, and semicircular apses looking like silos finished the ends of the aisles. The campanile is rectangular, rises 7 stories before being topped with an octagonal cap. A uniform light tan stone has been used throughout the entire exterior. The sides have tall arches, with half pallidal insets and highly placed small arched windows.
Entering through the central doors, with the subsequent internal doors to block wind and rain, the interior is light and bright. Closely placed columns advance along the central aisle to the transepts, with little along the walls but confessionals, stairs to the lower level, and high small arched windows. The side aisle columns support arches which in turn support a gallery on both sides. (In the undercroft chapel, short columns support the upper floor, with pews either in the center aisle or down both side aisles and a small altar at the east end. The crypts are dedicated to St Nicholas the Pilgrim, and to St Mary.)
Slightly ahead of my plan for an hour at the cathedral in Trani, we were soon underway to #Bisceglie, straight down the coast 10km. Twenty-five minutes later, we were parking within walking distance of the Piazza Duomo. The Basilica Concattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo faces west with a transept similar in style to the Trani cathedral, but there are two towers, in the east corners behind the transept.
Narrow streets are on three sides of the building, with the north side a narrow alley with several entry doors. Able to walk around, but a depth view was impossible. Mass was just letting out, so I had a brief window inside before the next Mass began.
To start, which door to use to enter was confusing, but I followed a parishioner in. The interior is fairly dark and small. While there are aisles, they are filled with memorial chapels and tombs. The crypt below is a small tight space, with the reliquaries on display. In the nave, there are galleries which could provide nice shots, with good light. Note that in the relic displays, each reliquary has an upright case which had an arm bone.
Finished with my cathedral shots, but skipping really any true exploration of the port city, we headed off to Ruvo. Vincenzo continued to feel I needed more time where I went, to see more of the town. #Ruvo is 15km due south inland, a 25 minute car ride. The west façade has a large empty space in front, formed by the Largo Cattedrale and the Via Cattedrale. We found street parking on Via I. Griffi, which is the eastern façade.
Conforming to the Apulia Romanesque format that I was slowly becoming accustomed to; I was unable to walk all the way around it. Again, restorations of the Concattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta last century have removed all the baroque additions of the eighteenth century. There is a short, square campanile by the north transept. The west façade has three entry doors, up 4 steps from the plaza. The doors are set in lightly evident arches, supported by columns. The central door is much more ornate, with lions, griffins and carvings. A small window in an arch is directly below a lovely rose window in the peak.
The nave is not deep, albeit tall, with trussed wooden beams in the vault. The side aisles are narrow. The main altar is raised, up 3 steps, and a ciborium overhead. The bishop’s cathedra is wood, with a slight canopy, and is placed to the left of the altar against the back wall. Two baroque chapels survived the restorations, the reserve sacrament and Sacred Heart. Excavations are underway in the crypt, uncovering earlier churches and pagan temples.
It was nearing time for the family midday meal, so Vincenzo and I headed to #Molfetta. Fifteen kilometers to the coast, in 25 minutes. Vincenzo dropped me off at the Piazza Giovene, which has a great turn around, and then sped off to get home for family dinner. When we’d corresponded, he explained that dinner and siesta were standard, due to the high temperatures. Everything closed midday. It had been beautiful and clement for the past few days, with temperatures in the 70’s (°F) and light clouds. The cathedral had closed at noon, so I planned to get some outside shots, walk over to the Duomo Vecchio and take photos there too.
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e Sant'Ignazio di Loyola in Molfetta was built in the 17h century by Jesuits, abandoned when the Society of Jesus was suppressed in 1767. In 1785 it was restored and elevated to cathedral status, supplanting the Duomo Vecchio. The central axis of the cathedral runs north (main entrance) to south (dome and apse). The only view is the north façade, as building surround the other three sides. Built of local white stone, there is a single entrance, a tall opening below carved flourishes, a square window above, both set within a tall rounded arch. Half columns line the corners and sides of the arch, carrying up to the monument placed above the roof.
My initial pictures taken, I set off for the Duomo Vecchio. The ex-Cattedrale San Corrado faces west with an unobstructed view of the marina, and its north side looks out to a lido. Two matching towers at the rear, I was intrigued by the three hexagonal-drum domes which are situated linearly over the nave. The seaward tower provides lookout (for Saracens) and the other is a campanile.
The church was supposed to be closed. The central door was shut. I went up to look more closely at the carvings around the arch, and noticed one of the side entry doors was open. Embolden, I went through and met an acolyte who was cleaning up after the last Mass. When I asked if I could take a few pictures and also pray, he told me 10 minutes. Such a blessing. Making a quick circuit around the nave and side aisles, I returned to the small chapel with a small baldachin, by the door I entered and dropped to my knees (on the kneeler, fortunately. You should watch me try and genuflect when I pass the Presence.) A quick prayer for my grandfather and mother, and I thanked him and was out the door as he locked up. The three domes were splendid, the high altar rather elaborate, but the sense of peacefulness was intense. When the bishop’s seat had moved, they also moved the relics of St Conrad, the city’s patron saint. That felt wrong.
Looking at Maps for a place to eat, the options all seemed to be south of the old city. I spotted the word “vineria” and decided that could be the place. La Vineria di San Domenico was small, with wine bottles seemingly on every surface. Welcomed, I sat down and pulled out my journal. Picking the specials, the primi was Spaghetti con funghi cardoncelli e pomodorini a filo: spaghetti with tomato and porcini mushrooms; mushrooms usually being something I avoid, but I gave it a try, and was glad I did. Then for the main, it had to be seafood, even with my red wine. Polpo di scoglio con cipolla di tropea: rock octopus (grilled) with Calabrian red onions, in a lemon and hearts of palm cream sauce.
Well, I had a glass of the nero di Troia with the pasta, as I felt a white might not stand to the acid of the tomato. Good call, as the wine went nicely and I got an approving nod from the guy behind the bar. I was going to continue to drink it with the octopus, but he came over with a Minutolo, a white I’ve never heard of. (There are a lot of varietals I don’t know.) Medium bodied, off-dry and middling acid, the citrus elements came out strong for me, along with pear. It went superbly with the octopus.
In the meantime, I’d caught up with the journal and had spoken with a German couple about my trip and my photobook #CathedralsToTheGloryOfGod. They left with a card, interested because I had the cathedral and former cathedral in their hometown of Würzburg in Bavaria. There was still a bit more than an hour until the cathedral opened, so I just walked back into the old city and wandered. As 4pm rolled around, I came south and sat on the steps until the doors opened.
Once inside, it was baroque to the max. There is a gallery above the columns and arches which define the nave and the side aisles. The organ pipes are arranged overhead as I entered the nave. Fluting plaster and molding adorned every edge of the columns, piers and arches. At the crossing, the dome had geometric designs about a rondelle. The high altar, in the apse, was behind a marble altar rail, with the wooden ecclesiastic seat to the left. Oil paintings surround the chancel walls, with a statue of the raised Virgin above the high altar. Acoustics must be decent, as there had been concerts the past few weeks, and more were scheduled.
My phone chirped, and the message said that Vincenzo was on his way. I exited and walked around the corner to the loop, and he pulled up within minutes. Our next destination was #Giovinazzo, 7km down the coast. It took 20 minutes, mostly because of the convoluted route needed to reach the church at the north end of the port. We compared meals on the way. The Concattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta also faces west out into the harbor of Giovinazzo. We came in on the south side, and were luck to find a spot in front of the Palazzo Framarino Dei Malatesta, a hotel across the street.
Packed in with buildings, a drone would have helped. Inside, this co-cathedral of the Assumption is fairly small, with a short nave and the transept under a dome and including the presbytery and apse. The apse is covered with oil paintings with gold trim framing. In the transept, also up 9 steps from the nave, is a baldachin over a stone altar with the bishop’s throne behind.
Keeping to my schedule, I was out is just under a half hour and back in the car. Our final cathedral today was the Concattedrale di Maria SS. Assunta in Bitonto. #Bitonto is another inland village, 12km south of Gioviazzo. Enroute, I learned a bit about Bitonto, as Vincenzo’s grandmother is from there. We got there in 25 minutes, and found parking on the Piazza Cattedrale.
With the main entrance to the northwest, the northeastern face and the apse are bordered by narrow alleys. Carvings, particularly around the central entry door and in the tympanum highlight the main façade. I found it fascinating that there’s a palladium balcony on the southwest side, a story up, plus a railing for the porch above the narthex.
Inside, there are not a lot of decorative elements. The marble ambo, a pulpit and lectern combined, is a 1229 masterpiece of Apulian stonecarving (per Wikipedia.) The griffin tilework found in the crypt predates this building. Again, the openness and restraint with flourishes made me feel much more content in the Bitonto cathedral.
Not quite 6:15, I was heading out to the car according to schedule, and soon Vincenzo was heading east the 18km to my lodgings in #Bari. We talked a bit on the way about his B&B in Molfetta, and about how I could have stayed there, the Mareé Seafront Molfetta. Of course, by the time I’d contacted him for holding my luggage, I’d set my itinerary for Barletta and Bari. It took about half an hour to get into Bari, as I was staying in the Murat section of the new town, about halfway between the cathedral and the train station. As he was driving, he declined the offer of a drink, or a coffee, and headed back up the coast to Molfetta.
Entering the B&B Spapano Suites, I had to get out my last email from them to be able to enter codes. Once in off the street, it was marble stairs or a one person-plus-bag lift, which I used to get up two levels. I had a huge suite with a large couch. As I was entering, another guest said hi and she suggested I come up another flight to the roof garden and have a glass of wine. After pushing the roller in and unzipping it, I hung a few items and grabbed a glass. Up the stairs, there were four young Austrians winding down after a day at the beach. They offered a white from the Alta Aldige (northern Italy) and I got to meet them. From Austria’s eastern Styria province, they were on holiday from work, and liked the inexpensive Adriatic coast. They would leave on Wednesday, having spent 10 days. They had no complaints about the place, and all wanted to come to the States, particularly New York and California (on the same trip.)
After hanging with them for about half an hour, I excused myself and headed back to the suite. Wanting an early evening, I grabbed my journal and the light jacket and set out, descending by stairs. Maps led me to Mamapulia, 5 blocks away. (The section of town I’m in is very rectilinear, hence my feeling it’s newer.)
Getting a half carafe of house red, I ordered bruschetta classica, orecchiette con ragù di braciola, and straccetti di vitello rucola e grana. I pulled out my journal and phone and started trying to put what had passed on the two stops after lunch and the flat in Bari and dinner. As I finished the pasta, I was done, only to get on the computer to write the blog. The “gravy” on the orecchiette was sublime, and the chop was tender and tasty. More cow with the sautéed strips of beef with arugula with a great marinade.
I was full, so I finished up the wine and settled the check. Getting home didn’t even require Maps, and the window shopping was interesting – lots of clothing and jewelry stores of higher end labels, a Disney Store. When I got to the Benetton, I knew I’d just missed my door. Climbing the stairs, into the room and I got comfortable. Out came the netbook and the seven churches got written about. Now I have to match some photos (the download has completed) and I can post this and go to sleep.