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17 June 2020 - Day 67 – Taranto and Potenza

This Tuesday was my day to have an early start. I was up at a quarter to seven, and downstairs for breakfast 20-minutes later. A hard-boiled egg with a slice of cheese on a toasted split section of baguette, a banana and some juice would be more breakfast than for many days. Back to clean my teeth and finish packing, I was out the door and on my way to Brindisi Centrale by 7:30. My train to Taranto departed at 7:54, so I had plenty of time to make the half kilometer walk.

The train boarded at a middle platform, so I was waiting there and climbed into the second carriage. A 70km ride of 8 stops took nearly an hour and a half, as we crested crossing the “heel” to the west of Francavilla Fontana. The station, serving 7 platforms came into the outside middle platform.

Exiting to the south, I headed to the B&B Binario Uno who were going to hold my bag for the 4½ hours I would be in Taranto. To the right of the rotary in front of the station, I walked down behind the main post office on a private walkway. I’d found them on Facebook, after my other email attempts had gone unanswered. After a shared cup of coffee, I was off on my adventures at 9:30.

Taranto sits in the “instep” of the high-heel of the Italian peninsula. There are two large-ish bodies of water, collectively called the Mare di Piccolo, and the train station to the north connects to the city to the south via bridges. Returning to the rotary, it was a straight walk across the Ponte di Pietra onto an island at the mouth of the inlet.

I had to zigzag a bit in these “old city” streets, but knew I was close when I came to the Via Duomo. The Basilica Cattedrale di San Cataldo, which I’d approached along its north face, has its main entry facing east. Traditional cruciform layout, the lantern dome is at the crossing, with a second dome in the north west corner at the Cappellone di San Cataldo and a campanile, and a second large chapel to the southwest. The north façade has shallow insets under rounded arches for part of its length.

A long narrow building with streets on either side, there is a small triangular cobblestone square to the east of the main façade. Of two levels, niches filled with saints’ statues and capped by porticoes are in front of the interior side aisles, while the tall central door with a episcopal shield are at the ground level, and a window with a small statue fill the upper, capped with a small tympanum. Very short rise of a step is at the doorway. Medieval in origin, it now presents as baroque following 18th century renovations.

Entering the only doorway, the organ loft, supported by 4 short columns is overhead. A carved wooden coffered ceiling is supported by ranks of 8 mismatched marble columns and carved stone piers and arches, creating side aisles. The arches and the walls are unadorned, plaster whitewash; there are no side chapels, but a few clerestory windows provide natural light. Just before the crossing, a set of stone stairs descents to a crypt, with short white fluted columns offering a protective side wall.

At the crossing, a stone altar sits under the lantern dome and baldachin on a raised presbytery reached by 12 steps bracketing the stairwell to the crypt. The baldachin is four smooth red marble columns supporting a crown of red, black and white marble, with small statues of the Evangelists at the outside top corners. Steps behind lead through a metal gate into the narrow apse and its carved wooden choir stalls. The plainness of the nave is flipped to resplendent baroque, with frescoes and colored marble work in the chancel.

The right (north) transept’s chapel is dedicated to the patron saint, St Catald. The walls and ceiling are completely covered with frescoes and carved marble, with niches occupied by statues of saints. At the altar, a silver effigy of St Catald stands in a setback above and behind the cross and tabernacle. Below in the crypt, there is an old fresco triptych with brilliant colors. The fresco in the dome is a representation of the Last Judgement, with a resplendent Trinity in the center.

A lovely church, I really wanted more light in the apse, as the choir stalls were delightful work. Leaving, I had an objective that was entirely different. An hour walk, over 4km, I wanted to see the co-cathedral. Maps would take me past some historic sites facing out into the sea, and the weather seemed to be holding, so I set off down the Via Duomo a few blocks to the two columns which were the ruins of the Tempio di Poseidone.

An interesting juxtaposition, worship place for an old god, after the worship place for the Catholics.

Before I crossed to the eastern mainland, the Castello Aragonese, or the Castel San Angelo: open for tours given by the Italian Navy, the 1496 fortress replaced earlier military buildings dating back to 3rd-4th century BCE Greeks. I really didn’t have the 90 minutes recommended for a tour.

Crossing on Ponte Girevole, the sole bridge over this channel, Maps took me along the waterfront at first, past the sailor monument, a modern sculpture.

Angling inland on the Via Giuseppe Mazzini, the route took me by commercial and retail shops. Without realizing that there had been a name change, I had to make a quick shift south a block to get to Via Plateja for a kilometer. I found it heartening that there were many parking lots placed here and there – good urban planning. At the next name change, I turned right again and walked two blocks to face across a triple reflecting pond my objective. There, standing 50m away, was the Basilica Pontificia Concattedrale della Gran Madre di Dio. Built between 1964-70, the design by Milanese Gio Ponti was inspired by paper cut-outs.


ust looking at it I was blown away. The broad plaza with the pools, the 20 steps from the plaza to the entry, the starkness of the bright white and sharp lines, the rising “sail” steeple. This is a modern cathedral to be wondered at from the outside as well as inside, similar to those found in Coventry or on either side of San Francisco Bay California. I was so awed that I hardly knew what to expect inside. The outside had been white, with gray and navy highlights.

The inside a burnt orange, teal and an off-white combination. For me, it was a bit too sterile. I didn’t get any sense of spirituality, or religiousness. Maybe it was the 5 steps rising to the chancel, putting the celebrant too high above the congregants. I don’t know, but I was a bit disappointed inside by the Co-cathedral Church of the Mother of God.

Having visited the two cathedrals, I had nearly 5km back to the station, a good hour walk. The next train would depart in 2 hours. Walking 5 blocks, I was able to get a public bus which took me to the train station in 15 minutes. Two blocks back, I walked into Trattoria L’Orologio for lunch, as it was near the B&B that had my luggage. A seafood restaurant built into a warehouse building; I figured a light lunch to tide me over for the two-hour train ride.

Skipping a starter, for a primi I asked for tubettini o riso fagioli e cozze. I asked for a carafe of water and a half liter of house red. More pasta for the secondi, calamari al sugo di olive nere. The mussels with beans and pasta had just a bit of red sauce, so it didn’t really interfere flavor-wise with my black olive treatment of the squid. The actual seafood was tender and delicious, and the pasta was pasta. No dessert, I settled up and walked around the building to go collect my luggage.

The bag was out and ready for me, as I’d explained I’d be catching the train at 13:56 when I dropped it off. The matron wasn’t sure I’d have eaten, since I’d said I would be walking the whole time, so she had a small goodie bag for me for the ride. Thanking her (and leaving a tip), I headed to the station. My train would leave from the same middle platform, so I was waiting a minute or two before it pulled in. I had been watching the skies, as the clouds had rolled in while eating, and distant thunder had sounded. As we pulled out of the station, rain and lightening began, so I was pleased with my timing.

Writing in my journal and looking out the window as we climbed into the rising landscape, agriculture eventually gave way to forests as we achieved altitude. My snack contained a roll, some cheese and an apple, so I nibbled a bit too. Only 4 stops, new carriages, the nearly 2-hour ride seemed over much faster. At Potenza Centrale, I had a 20-minute wait to catch the smaller shuttle train up the hill to Potenza Superiore, which would be a shorter and less steep walk. We were apparently waiting on the east bound train’s connection.

Six minutes with no stops, I was leaving Potenza Superiore station. (The walk from Centrale was 2km and a 140m rise, while from Superiore, 1.2km and 75m climb.) In any case, I was walking into Tourist Hotel (yes, that’s what it’s called) a quarter before 5. Check-in was quick, I had a decent room with just enough floor space, but I had a super view from the third level! The skies had cleared here, so I hung up the slicker and pulled on the heavier jacket (it was cooler too) and headed back downstairs. The cathedral would be open until 20:00, so I had time, but I wanted it accomplished, particularly if there would be an evening Mass.

A quarter kilometer over fairly flat roads, the Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e San Gerardo Vescovo has its apse in the east end, a crossing with a large dome, and 5-story bell tower. Looking up from the plaza in front of the west façade, I could tell that I wasn’t in Apulia any more. Potenza is the capital of both the province of Potenza and the region of Basilicata.

The arch with bronze doors is central to the lower level, reached by two sets of 8 steps each. The tympanum over the doorway has flat columns for “support”. There are pairs of taller flat arches on either side of the door. In the second stage, a rectangular window is centered over the door, with smaller flat columns above those on the lower level. A triangular cap with a small rose window tops the façade. There is a northern side door entrance, with 10 steps in front of the campanile which has a pair of bronze doors.

Entering through the west doors, an organ loft overhangs the wooden weather doors. Creating side aisles, there are three squared columns with rounded arches supporting a clerestory and arches to support the frescoed vault. Small shrines lined the aisle walls. Over the piers at the crossing rises a circular dome, also painted with frescoes. Four steps raise the presbytery from the marble tiled floor, where the main altar with carved angels at the corners sits under the dome. The lower apse wall is a series of white panels, highlighting the dark wood of the choir stalls and the episcopal chairs along the back wall. Above is a modern mural of the Christ the Redeemer.

While a shrine or a church has been on the site since the 5th-6th century, some time before the 12th century a church had been elevated to cathedral, when a new building was raised. Neo-classic renovations took place in the late 18th century, and new frescoes were painted in the 1930’s. Repairs were made after the bombardment in 1943. The transepts are chapels, to St Gerard with his relics, and the Eucharist. The crypt is reached through a “trap door” in the apse, access with prior request.

As six o’clock approached, a number of older women and a few men began entering and taking seats in the south transept going through metal gates, the Eucharist chapel. While relaxed and rested from the train ride, I figured a little grace for good weather would be a wise idea, so I found a spot in a back pew. Mass was brief, no more than 40 minutes, and I noted that the communion wine was red. An organist was present, leading in with adaptation of the Vivaldi Summer movement. Three hymns, and a piece I didn’t recognize at the end. I actually sought out the organist, and learned it was a sonata by Bellini, which was lovely.

With a suggestion to visit the Tempiotto di San Gerardo, I set off to the south the quarter kilometer. A little half-octagonal shrine with columns holding a cover with putti, a statue of the city’s patron saint and a stained-glass backdrop, it filled the bend in a street and allowed a view to the south.

Heading back up a block, I walked down Via Pretoria to 0971 Lounge Bar. Ordering a glass of “local” aglianico vino da tavola and a small antipasto, I took out my journal to finish with my observations of Potenza and her cathedral.

Not wanting to eat there, I set out on a stroll around the cathedral area, which seemed to have a number of choices. I eventually wound up at Ristorante La Tettoia. While it hardly looked like a shed, it was more than half full, always a good sign for a Wednesday evening. As I didn’t need a starter, I selected from the pasta and meat selections: orecchiette with spinach in a pesto preparation to begin, and sliced steak on arugula with shaved pecorino di filiano. To drink, a Paternoster Don Anselmo Aglianico del Vulture.

Obviously my Italian-flavored English caught a few ears, and when I pulled out the journal to touch up a few observations, a number of curiosities were peaked. From a table of four, the youngest, probably forty-something, asked where I was from. As I started on my wine, I related as briefly as I could my trip and cathedral obsession. With the arrival of the pasta, I go a break to eat, but I did return to them to ask about them (Veronese on holiday.) After my beef, as I continued to savor my wine, we continued to talk as they pressed for more details about my photobook #CathedralsToTheGloryOfGod. After giving them all business cards, I asked their plans in #Basilicata, or Lucania as it was known, since this was my only stop. They had been north near Monte Vulture to do some wine tasting, and were heading east to Matera to visit its World Heritage site


Wishing them a good evening, I headed to the hotel. Maps gave me three options for walking back, so I took the one on streets which I hadn’t used yet. It took me to the north of the cathedral, giving me a nice view of the dome and campanile. When I got back to the room, I opened the window and pulled out the netbook. Getting my pictures copied off the phone and camera chip were my first order of things to do. Then charging batteries and phone, I started to write this blog post. Once it’s posted, I’m off to bed.

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