15 June 2020 - Day 65 – Bari and Monopoli/Polignano a Mare


After six towns yesterday, today was light work. I was up a bit after 8, got cleaned up and grabbed the rucksack and camera. No jacket, temperatures were comfortably in the 70’s all day. I walked back to the train station and caught the 9:01 express train southeast along the Adriatic coast from Bari to Monopoli. Twenty-five minutes later, I left the carriage and exited the train station to the north, using the underground subway.


The cathedral was pretty much geographically due east, but the rectilinear street plan required what I call stair-stepping with right-left-right turns over a kilometer and a quarter. The cathedral is in the southwestern corner of the older part of #Monopoli. The Basilica Pontificia Concattedrale di Maria Santissima della Madia patrona faces west, with an octagonal dome over the traditional larger crossing, and the Apulian transept further east before the pentagonal apse. Building of the original cathedral, on top of former churches, and Roman temples and cemetery, began in the early twelfth century, but was torn down and replaced with an Italian Baroque style cathedral. During the initial construction, work was held up due to lack of timbers for the roof; a raft carrying an icon of the Madonna drifted into the harbor, providing the needed wood. Hence the dedication.



Two-level façade has three doors on a porch reached by 7 steps from the large clear plaza. The two side doors are smaller, with curved portico and small carvings, and an oval window overhead on the first level. The central door is a third larger and has columns and a more elaborate portico. On the upper level, curled bases support carved urns over the corners, while over the center pairs of flat columns support a large crown over a central window.


Entering, rectangular piers, covered in red and gold designs which carry into the arches support the nave. Arched bays along the side aisles have provided space for ornate shrines. The side walls and bays are white plaster, emphasizing the columns designs. Above the central door are the organ pipes. The barrel vault is decorated in pale green-blue and gold in a repeating design for the 5 sets of columns. At the first crossing, the dome is painted in shades of blue with lantern windows. Clerestory windows above the piers provide natural light. With the second crossing, the main altar platform has been extended out, while the high altar in resplendent gold and painted surfaces is against the back wall.


The forward platform is large, the width of the second transept. Behind it, a marble altar rail, to the left is a small raised platform of 3 steps: a red carpet leads to a red-and-gold brocaded armchair which is the cathedra. Behind, the chancel for the high altar with curved wooden pews. From this vantage point, the jewel box aspect of the interior is spectacular.



After about an hour, I was ready to move along. Taking a different route back, I came to the tree encircled Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, which I entered from the southeast corner, crossed to the center break, and across to another rectangular square, the Fontana Monumentale. Exiting to Via Magenta, it brought me to the station. After a ten-minute wait, I boarded the train at 11:17 for a 5-minute ride to Polignano a Mare.


The Polignano train station is very small, a whistle stop before Bari. This was a crap shoot for me. The Chiesa Matrice Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo is a former cathedral, a 700m walk towards the water, and, for all I could determine, would be closed for construction/renovations. The walk took me by a large, modern school, a couple of parks, one of which had an outdoor stage, and through mixed-use neighborhoods until I was 25m from the water. The Church of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven is larger than many parish churches, has an oval dome and faces west, as I would expect a cathedral. There is a short square campanile on the northeast corner.




The wrought iron fencing and gate were closed with the fencing covered. Over the top, I could see a plain stone façade with a single-entry doorway. Niches with statues framed with flat half columns topped by carved tympanum bracketed the doorway, which has a rectangular bas-relief carving of Mary and others below a triangular tympanum with God the Father. The church is on a plaza, so a picture was possible, and with the flip screen on the back of my camera, I could get a detail shot of the portal. I hung out until noon, hoping I might find a workman who’d let me get one or two shots inside, but they apparently used a side door I didn’t find.

Heading back to the #PolignanoAMare station on my same path, I heard the waves hitting the bottoms of the cliffs to my left. I passed a few restaurants, but decided to get back to Bari. Trains ran at 30-minute intervals, so I had a 5-minute wait before boarding and a 43-minute milk-run train to #Bari.

Just after 1pm, it would be a 10-minute walk straight up the Via Sparano da Bari, through the lovely park with the Fontana Piazza Umberto I.

Reaching the flat without finding anything appealing, I went up and switched to shorts, for the first time this trip. Back on the street, Maps said it was another kilometer north on a straight path. Surely I’d see something down a cross street that intrigued me, particularly since I was walking shopper’s heaven.


Passing through and beyond a broad garden that looked like a landlocked beach, I chanced on Panificio Santa Rita. A bakery, they did a nice simple lunch. A quarter of a tomato pie and a bottle of water, I was out to the street and sharing a bench. It didn’t take too long, and soon enough I was on my way. Another couple of blocks and I was at the Piazza dell’Odegiria and in front of the cathedral.

The west façade of the Basilica Cattedrale San Sabino is, what I’ve come to mentally call, standard Apulian Romanesque. A relatively plain front with three entry doors up 5 stairs, the doors are framed with simple molding topped with arches. A rose window is located above the central door, and there are smaller slit-type clear glass lights. A campanile raises at the south transept. A circular chapter house stands to the west of the north façade, which has half pallidal arches capped by a smaller balcony.


Inside, pairs of eight cylindrical non-matching marble columns define the two side aisles, which come to an arch, on which smaller, shorter columns support a wall up to the clerestory. The vault is a wooden double ladder structure. Side walls are plain stone, undecorated (probably following removal of 18th century baroque embellishments, done in the 20th and 21st centuries.)


Eight steps lead up from the nave floor to the presbytery at the transept. In the center, under a dome, is a plain ciborium over the main altar. To its rear, in the curved apse, raised 3 steps, is the stone cathedra under a crucifix and a blocked window. The rest of the apse wall are stepped stone for a standing choir. On either side of the baldachin are wooden choir stalls in front of wrought iron grills housing the organ and sacristy.


Down a flight of stairs under the chancel is the crypt, with painted pilasters supporting arches and vaults more elaborately painted. Relics of the patron saint, St Sabinus, as well as St Columba and others are worshiped here. The alter here is rococo, white carvings extravagant. In a neighboring section, excavations have uncovered walls and piers for an earlier Byzantine cathedral, in addition to mosaics of a Roman temple.

Departing to the north from the cathedral along the Strada del Carmine, passing numerous lodging alternatives, I came to the Piazza San Nicola. With the destruction of San Sabino by William the Wicked (William I of Sicily) in 1156, upon its completed construction in 1197 the cathedral seat was moved to the Basilica di San Nicola until San Sabino was rebuilt and consecrated in 1292. So, for my purposes, it is a former cathedral; however, for the Barese, San Nicola is more important. The relics of St Nicholas of Myra, removed from Turkey with the arrival there of Saracens, traveled to Venice and Bari, and were eventually (1089) united in Bari and this church was built. Pilgrims from all over Europe, particularly those from the former Iron Curtain, regularly make trips to Bari and this basilica.


With the large radiating plaza in front of the west façade, the Basilica of St Nicholas has a near square footprint, with two fortress-like towers bracketing the entry wall, and an Apulian transept. With two side entry doors in modestly carved arches, the center door is dressed with columns and a bas relief in a portico. Single and double windows have been placed in the upper story, with a small rose window at the peak.


Inside, your eyes are torn: to look up at the wooden gilded ceiling of framed oils, or to look ahead to the baldachin on the high altar. The clean lines of the nave, with granite columns supporting the women’s galleries and vault emphasize the baroque flourishes left on the ceiling. At the transept in the east end, a simple ciborium protects the high altar. Below, in the crypt, the altar directly below houses the remains of St Nicholas, and has a shrine to him as well as a portion of the basilica’s treasury behind a locked gate.

Of particular interest to me, the original stone carved cathedra for the first bishop of St Nicholas in Bari still sits in this basilica. With giants holding the corners, a lame child gazes up from the front. It is probably the oldest cathedra I’ve seen.

When I left the basilica, passing along the north side and wondering at the elaborate half Palladian arches, I found I was looking out at the sea. Moving to the cross walk, and waiting for the traffic signal, I crossed four lanes of traffic skirting the waterside, and began strolling the broad sidewalk.

When I came to a gap in the wall, I got out on the sand and removed my footwear. My travel companion last year had waded in the North Sea when we were in Scotland, so I decided to wade in the Adriatic for her. The water wasn’t too cool. I had to climb over some rocks, but it wasn’t too difficult. After drying my feet, the shoes were back on and I continued my stroll.



When I’d come to the point for the marina barrier wall, opposite was Il Fontino di Sant’Antonio Abate. Hoping for a cannon or two (thanks, Dad) I crossed the roadway again and climbed to the upper level, with hopes dashed. I did get a great view of the port, and could see some of the old protective walls of the old city. Continuing along the roadway, a greenbelt, a strip of grass and trees, appeared and I crossed it to put it between me and the speeding cars

. Reaching the corner, it was the tourist center, and with 10 minutes before closing, I managed to get my hat pin souvenir.

Seven blocks and a half kilometer to the flat, I decided to get a bottle of wine to share with the “kids”. Having been up and down Sparano, I went a block further and came down Via Andrea da Bari.

Three blocks along, I found Enoteca Cucumazzo, a “wine bar” that was serious retail and not much on sampling. I asked for a red, a cold rosé, and a cold white, all from Apulia. As I paid, I asked after a food market, and there was one three doors down in the direction I’d have headed. So into Agrifull, where I picked up some bread, cheese and a sausage. At the corner, I was a block from the flat.


As I was climbing the stairs, I heard the young men talking as they climbed to the roof. Banzai, they were back too. I stopped to pick up a glass, corkscrew, cutting board and several knives and headed upstairs too. Cheers went up when they saw the goodies I brought, and we pulled chairs and tables together and settled into the evening. My trip and enthusiasm for Monopoli had the women thinking about venturing south tomorrow, as we were supposed to have periodic rain, and the guys sort of agreed. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but the food disappeared, as did most of the wine. Not much beer was drunk while I was there.

After a while, I excused myself, taking the utensils and hardware, and my rucksack back downstairs. After washing the little bit of sand off my legs and feet, I settled down to write my journal for the first time today. I downloaded the camera and charged one of the two camera batteries. As the sun was getting closer to setting, I began thinking about dinner, but decided I could skip tonight. The young folks knocked as they were heading out to get take-away, and insisted on bringing me back a panini. So I finished my journal and began writing my post while I thought about how I’d pack for the next few days.

Arriving with a panini with cheese and prosciutto, I took a break and went to their suite. Two bedrooms and a large common space, besides not quite catching their names (they spoke a dialect, and used nicknames), I didn’t quite figure out the pairings, if there were any. Finishing up, and the men turning to sports on the television, I headed back to my room after thanking them and saying goodbye. I finished the blog post, found pictures and am ready to push it into the cloud.

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