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Italy XI – 28 July to 4 August: Abruzzo and Puglia

The train leaving Civitavecchia after I debarked from the MSC Divina left from platform 5, which (mercifully) had a working elevator. I went to the far end – the front – where I was able to get my large bag into the luggage storage area, keeping my small roller at my feet. The train eventually was packed with folks traveling towards or to Rome. We arrived at Roma Termini five minutes late, cutting into the 22 minutes I had to switch trains.

Fortunately, the train for Avezzano left out of platform 12, so getting from the side platforms for westbound trains around to the “regular” gates wasn’t a kilometer run. I was boarding and stashing my bags in about 10 minutes, and the train never filled. In the province of l’Aquila in the region of Abruzzo, this city is relatively small (40+K) and has a small station with no lifts. Unsure of where I was, I went down and then up the stairs, only to find I was on the wrong side, looking north. Rather than returning through the subway and more stairs, I took a cab to the C’era Un Lago B&B where I was to stay. Unstaffed, I was fortunate that Mariella was checking another guest in when I arrived. (I thought I had communicated my travel plans, but perhaps not?) The room was on the ground floor, only 3 steps in the lobby, and had a window facing out to the street. Lots of floor space, good bathroom, and use of a kitchen, with breakfast in the morning.


View of Monte Velino from the Avezzano train station
View of Monte Velino

After unpacking the basics, I headed back north towards the cathedral. Mid-late afternoon meant that it was closed, but in the Piazza Risorgimento that the entry façade faces, a group was setting up a stage and a band was doing sound checks. I was advised the church would open at 5, so I decided to continue to the north and the train station, to check out the view of the mountains I’d seen when I was on the “wrong side of the tracks.” After a few pictures, I checked with the bus depot, as my plans had me continuing east to the Adriatic the next morning, and I would be taking a bus part way. Getting a ticket and a pickup point seemed important. As it turned out, I would be on a different system, which left from the other side. Back through the subway, I chatted with the clerk, got my ticket, and was set.


Front facade, Cattedrale di S. Bartolomeo Apostolo, Avezzano
Cattedrale di S. Bartolomeo Apostolo, Avezzano

By that time, the cathedral should have opened, so I strolled back to the piazza. The Cattedrale di San Bartolomeo Apostolo looked the same, with no open doors. Checking with folks in the park, I learned the entry was through a door on the west side, by the bell tower. Entering, I was able to explore and get my pictures. Ivory reigned for color, with clean, sharp edges and lines. Little natural light, the sunlight there was came through the round window in the apse, high above the altar, and from the octagonal lantern at the crossing.

Circular “portholes” were set back in the gallery above the side aisles. The main altar is striated white marble, with an intricate lace-like band of white flowers and leaves. The high altar, is deeper in the apse, under a rectangular baldachin, a lighted suspended crucifix above; the cathedra sits before it. What little art was displayed, it all appeared new, including the few stained-glass windows.

Back to the room, I called Mailboxes Etc. in Rome again to find out about my shipment home. Once told to send them an email, they were able to reply (to the correct address) with a Fedex tracking number, which I checked and determined it was in Florida the middle of the previous week. That resolved, I got all devices up on the WiFi and worked through emails. About 2 hours later, I headed out to forage for my dinner.

A Friday night in summer, I wasn’t sure how welcome I’d be as a single. Folks were picnicking on the square, but not many dining places were open. After checking out several establishments, I settled into La Cantina dell’Arrosticino. Language was an issue, so I wound up with a bottle of a pricey Montepulciano (Pasetti “Testarossa”, from Abruzzo) to go with my pasta. Thicker than spaghetti, the ragu bolognese had tomato, sausage, roasted peppers; too bland for me, I doctored with a lot of grated cheese, ground pepper, peperoncini picante. At least the wine was good. [I’d ordered an antipasto platter, but he was pushing skewers of some sort: the minimum number being 10, I passed.) The dessert was a semifreddo with pistachio. As I wasn’t about to finish the bottle of wine, an older solo gentleman was dining nearby, and I asked if he would like the rest, which he gladly accepted.


The owner approached with an Abruzzo digestif. Very green, raw in the mouth, it reminded me of the walnut liqueur I’d made in California. (Pre-ripened walnuts in husks, red wine, vodka, cloves, citrus peel: aged 3-4 months.) There was a couple from Rome there, having stopped on their drive to the eastern coast; we compared notes on driving versus the train. Leaving about 9:30pm, I walked by the piazza where the technicians were still working on the stage. The square had filled, and folks were anticipating a show. I headed back to the room, backing up my photos, and crashed.

Saturday morning I was up early, packed, ate the breakfast yogurt and drank the juice (the coffee maker was beyond my skills.) As I walked towards the cathedral, I passed by a farmer’s market in the square in front to the city hall. The piazza had no people, but the equipment and stage were still there, so no clear shot of the cathedral. At the train station, I found the 19-passenger bus that would take me to Sulmona. No space for luggage, the driver opened the rear and stuffed the big roller between the last seats. We made two stops as the bus traveled over hills and through valleys, with towns perched on hillsides, arriving with enough time to board the train for Pescara.


Speed Wash Laundry, Pescara
Speed Wash Laundry

The train station in Pescara is huge, modern. Getting to the Hotel Ambra Palace was easy, over flat terrain and with no confusion. The room wasn’t ready at noon, and the cathedral would be closed until 4:30, so I decided to find a laundry to do 2 weeks’ worth. Into the room at 1, I was loading the bags and roller, then filling 2 machines at Speed Wash Laundry. The change machine broke my 20€ note into euro coins, and I was able to move the wet clean clothes into dryers for 30-minute tumbles. Once back in the room, I repacked and took a nap.

Pescara is a big city in Abruzzo, on the Adriatic Sea and split by the Fiume Pescara. The central train station and my hotel were on the north side of the river, while the cathedral is over the river to the south. Rather than walking near the train tracks, I followed the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II south. The Chiesa del Sacro Cuore, Santuario della Divina Misericcordia was off towards the seashore, calling for a visit. With a beige-and-white palate, I liked the hairline squiggles in the white marble veneer that filled the apse walls. Something I’d not seen, high on a wall were eight regulator clocks, probably for ringing the bells in the tower.


When I got to the river, I crossed on the Ponte Risorgimento and went around a rotary to head southwest. I approached the Cattedrale di San Cetteo Vescovo e Martire from its northeast corner, its bell tower occupying the northwest ahead at the street corner.

South side facade with tower, Cattedrale di San Cetteo Vescovo e Martire / Cathedral of St Cetteus, Bishop and Martyr, Pescara
Cattedrale di San Cetteo Vescovo e Martire, Pescara

The front façade is fairly plain, with a handful of statues above and bracketing the central door. Built in the 1930’s and repaired after war damage, the interior lines are sharp and clean. The design was influenced by the native writer Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose mother is entombed there. The presbytery is reached by mounting 9 steps, with the altar table in front of a curved bank of wooden seats fitted to the apse wall, the cathedra at the center.


Above, five stained-glass windows depict Christ and saints. Opposite, in the balcony over the entrance, organ pipes fill the space below a non-traditional rose window. More light enters from the modern stained-glass windows of the side aisles and the clear glass in the clerestory openings. Most notable to me was a travertine-filled window with a cross design.

Leaving, I walked to the south corner and then circled around to return and cross the river. I was curious to visit the beach, so walked across at the next crossing before heading north and east. Passing a modern round church (Sant’Andrea), I was intrigued, however, Mass had let out and crowds were in front conversing, so I passed. When I reached the beach, the wide expanse of sand was filled with chaises, coolers and palapa-like umbrellas. The sea was calm, and appeared to be shallow.


It was approaching 6pm, and I began looking for a place to have a glass of wine (or beer) and sit for a bit before dinner. Choices were few along the beach, most pushing umbrella drinks, so I worked my way inland. Accosted by an attractive young woman in a black, off-the-shoulder gown invited me into the bar (in Italian). No English, so I had a gin and tonic and chilled. Nursed it until the ice was melted, I walked the broad pedestrian street in the general direction of the hotel, and finally gave up and popped into a “greasy spoon”. While I expected the meal to include a burger, my dinner consisted of a bed of french fries, dribbled melted cheese and topped with slices of crispy bacon. Artery blocker. I had a bottle of Sardinian beer with the tab coming to 17€. Not really anything to rock my socks, I picked off the bacon and nibbled on about a third of the fries.


From “dinner” I headed back to the hotel, getting in about 8. Back in the room, I did a page of journal, backed up the photos, and then began, over the WiFi to upload a blog and insert photos.

Sunday morning started early, albeit I woke at 7, but rolled over for another 45 minutes. I was out of the hotel in half an hour, across to the station and verified my train plans. The coastal-hugging train took me on a 75-minute ride southeast to Termoli, an intermittent stop. The cathedral was in the old port, so I walked my gear to Locanda Alferi, where I was to “park” the bags while I explored the port. Despite my prior arrangement to pay for the service, they insisted it was gratis.


Front facade of Cattedrale di Santa Maria della Purificazione e San Basso, Termoli
Cattedrale di Santa Maria della Purificazione e San Basso, Termoli

From there a short walk to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria della Purificazione e San Basso, a stubby stone church attached to the episcopal residence. Dating back to the eleventh century, the small stone church is steeped in spirituality. The nave has three aisles, Romanesque columns supporting a clerestory. The presbytery is bilevel, with the sanctuary up 11 steps to a simple main altar, with a modern stone cathedra to the right and the crystal coffin of St Bassus over the sarcophagus of St Timothy to the left. Below in the crypt are the archeological finds of the original resting places of the city’s patrons, the ruins of the earlier cathedral, a baptismal bath and mosaic tiling. While it was a Sunday, the only visitors were tourists, all being moved to quiet reverence by the spiritual essence pouring out of the walls.

Exiting onto the Piazza Duomo, I walked the terrace of the old city walls, looking out over the breakwaters protecting the city’s beach to the north and the marina of fishing boats to the south. I kept returning to the cathedral and its square, getting another photo or two. As time to catch my next train approached, I recovered my bags and made my way to the station.

Signage in the station was out, but posted schedules indicated platform 2, so I used the stairs; when they came back on, the train was due, albeit 30 minutes late, on my original track 1. The next ride was shorter, so in 40 minutes I was 60km southeast (but 30km inland) in San Severo. The Hotel Palazzo Giancola was directly west of the station.

Room 106 was one level up, with a lift. Ample space, a desk with a mini frig, good size bathroom. After unpacking the small roller, I walked down the stairs and out into the town.

Front facade, Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, San Severao
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, San Severo

The duomo was a kilometer due west of the station and hotel, dodging a little construction once I passed the rotary at Piazza Incoronazione. Unfortunately, when I arrived I found the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta closed. (Google said it would open at 4, but not on Sundays?) Boxy, the exterior remined me of a two-layer rectangular cake, the pale-yellow walls trimmed in white. I searched for a winebar, making a long walk through the city streets to find it closed. I noted that I had seen very few people during my exploration.

I was encountering festive lights lining some streets, and determined they were tied to the Chiesa del Carmine. Also closed, as were all the restaurants nearby! I was starting to be hungry (no breakfast or lunch), so after checking with Maps and the two closest were closed, I began heading towards the hotel. Two pizza places faced one another, with Pizza Re staff setting up for dinner service. The café across, Charly, was in bar mode, so I sat and had a glass of white wine with a bag of chips. At the time the staff across the street said service would begin, I was told it would be another hour, so I headed back to the room.


Front facade, Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo (Iconavetere) / Cathedral Basilica of St Mary Assumed into Heaven, Foggia
Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo (Iconavetere), Foggia

Anxious to be rid of San Severo, I was on the 8:45 train to Foggia. Twenty-minute ride, I was able to leave my bags with the station staff for 2 hours while I headed into the city. Three-quarters of a mile, I arrived at the Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo (Iconavetere) while Mass was underway. A former collegiate church, following the earthquake of 1731, it was restored in a baroque style. With a single-entry door to the west, a four-level bell tower rises on the south side before the arm of the transept. The nave is a single aisle with shallow shrines with altars lining the sides. I found the ornamentation to be less ostentatious than other baroque churches I’d visited, as the colors were muted and the few paintings smaller and hung higher on the walls. The dome at the crossing had simple white coffering and an opening to the lantern.

In the apse, the presbytery was behind a stone altar rail, with the main altar before the three steps to the large elaborately carved black, gold and white high altar. The south transept opens east with the gated shrine with the ancient icon of the Madonna of the Seven Veils under a small dome. I found the building to be tall, but not particularly deep.

Leaving the cathedral, I opted to take the longer route back to the station, as I had been having difficulty with the “Italian phone”. As I strolled through the commercial streets, I wasn’t finding a TIM outlet. Reaching the station a half hour early, I checked Maps on the US phone and found it. Once I had restarted the A14 after getting more time/data, I was back in business again. Forty minutes to Barletta, and it took a half hour to walk to the B&B. Leaving my bags there, I returned to the station (it only took 15 minutes to get back), I got on the train for 10 minutes and arrived in Trani.


South facade, Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta / Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino / Trani Cathedral
Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta / Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino, Trani

Trani is just down the Adriatic coast from Barletta. The Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta / Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino is a mile walk from the train station, on the northwest side of the port. Trani was a much better walking town than I’d experienced in Foggia.

Arriving at a quarter to 3, the indication was that it would reopen at half past three, so I got my outside shots, walked the breakwater a bit, and found a café for a glass of white wine and a green salad. Still locked as it neared 4, I bailed and returned by a different route to the station and then to Barletta. I left impressed with Trani.


Side facade, Chiesa San Giacomo Maggiore / Church of James the Great, Barletta (former pro-cathedral)
Chiesa San Giacomo Maggiore, Barletta (former pro-cathedral)

My research had three churches for me to visit in Barletta. I decided to start with the Chiesa San Giacomo Maggiore. A former pro-cathedral (post the destruction of Canne in 1083) according to Gcatholic.org, but not confirmed with Wikipedia or markings onsite. A brick-faced building with multiple locked doors along Vittorio Emanuele II, its axis paralleled the street. And not open on a Monday afternoon.

Front facade, Concattedrale di Santa Maria di Nazareth / Co-cathedral of Mary of Nazareth, Barletta
Concattedrale di Santa Maria di Nazareth / Co-cathedral of Mary of Nazareth, Barletta

Heading next to the Concattedrale di Santa Maria di Nazareth, about midway to my final church, I found a narrow, whitewashed brick-faced building with a gate guarding a locked door.


Rear facade, Basilica Concattedrale di Santa Maria Maggiore / Co-cathedral of St Mary Major, Barletta
Basilica Concattedrale di Santa Maria Maggiore, Barletta

Onward to the Basilica Concattedrale di Santa Maria Maggiore, about a quarter kilometer further east, where I was able to enter the building (finally!) Three aisles, high central vault with a gallery and clerestory lights above the side aisles. My initial impression was that it was nearly monochrome, shades of gray and beige. Shrines on the aisle walls were elaborate, with bits of color, as well as the sacramental altar on the south side, behind a gilt iron gate.

An ambulatory walk in the presbytery gave a view of the simple large marble table altar under a domed baldachin. The cathedra was interesting: backed by a carved wooden panel, the stone seat rests on carved crouching sphinxes, with very high side arms. Those critters were repeated on many of the capitals crowning the columns of the nave. A stairwell descended into a crypt, prompting for a euro to turn on the light. That device didn’t function, so my only picture was using the Nikon’s flash.

Exiting, I walked around the building, using the bell tower to block the sun. Behind the cathedral is a park surrounding the Castello di Barletta, a formidable looking fortress. It was closed for the day. Heading back to the B&B, I mounted the 13 very narrow steps to my room. I’d remarked to the hostess on my first stop to drop my gear that I’d found the young men above me to be a bit rowdy, but they’d quieted down in the interim. I opened the large roller on one of the twin beds, pretty much ignoring the bunk beds in the alcove.


After a bit of a wander, I headed towards the sea from the entrance, coming to a bar touting itself as an American bar, newly opened. Bar Makai had tables on the plaza in front, with umbrellas that were ineffective with the setting sun. I moved around to a high-top on the corner, and began journaling my day. With a glass of chardonnay, the hour passed and I was ready for food. I asked for a Barletta Panini (salsiccia, nostrana, formaggio fuso, insalata, pomodoro e mayo al pepe nero) The “burger” was a long link-sausage curled into a spiral, and came with two salads and a side of flash grilled very thinly sliced zucchini. I found it a great meal, and hope that the business succeeds. Another glass of chardonnay (it was still warm out, I finished emails and then headed back to do my backups and chargings, and to put the Strasbourg blog up. I had an early start in the morning.


The first of August, and I was up and showered, packed and off to the Barletta station, snagging extra snaps of the small co-cathedral from the day before, but arriving at 8. The schedule had an 8:25 departure, but actual time was 8:14: good thing I was early. The train pulled into Bari at 9, ahead of my rendezvous with my driver guide for the day. I found Nicola with a Mercedes SUV, and we reviewed my list/itinerary of cathedrals. Top of the list was Trani, which I’d (sort of) visited the day before, so we scratched it and headed to Bisceglia, about 40km west along the Adriatic.


Tight front facade, Basilica Concattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo / Co-cathedral Basilica of St Peter the Apostle, Bisceglia
Basilica Concattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo, Bisceglia

When we arrived at the Basilica Concattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo, it was opened as my notes anticipated. About 120 meters from the port, the building is a small white-stoned church with its entry façade to the west. Three doors there, another on the south side, all reached by stairs. (There is a wheelchair ramp on the south side, the Piazza Duomo.)

There are three aisles, with columns supporting the clerestory and wood-beamed central vault. The high altar bears three silver statues of two saints and a bishop; the main altar is a pedestal table over a large reliquary. The cathedra, a gilt armchair with vermilion cushioning. With little adornment in the nave, I found my trip to the vault rewarding, with fresh restorations and warmer colors. There, behind glass, are three reliquaries in the form of a forearm, displaying the arm bones of saints.


Front facade, Concattedrale di S. Maria Assunta / Co-cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, Ruvo di Puglia
Concattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, Ruvo di Puglia

Our next objective was Ruvo di Puglia, about 20km inland. Facing northwest into the Largo Cattedrale, the Concattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta has a nice empty plaza in front, great for photos. With the same sand-colored white stone of most of the nearby buildings, the façade has few windows, and the four-story campanile stands separately at the southeast corner. The central doorway’s arch has five mythical critters included with the carved symbols in the frame. Entering, it is evident that the 800+ year old building has had restorations, as the columns in the nave are clean and sharply-edged.

A small baldachin stands over the main altar at the center of the presbytery, with the tabernacle behind it in the apse, under a travertine cross window. Remains of frescoes are on some walls. I found the cathedra jammed into a wall, seemingly stashed out of the way. Over the entry door, a 12-point rose window of etched gray glass adds to the indirect lighting that fills the space.


Front facade,  Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e Sant'Ignazio di Loyola / Cathedral of the Assumption of mary and St Ignatius of Loyola, Molfetta
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e Sant'Ignazio di Loyola, Molfetta

Molfetta was the next stop, with two sites to visit. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e Sant'Ignazio di Loyola faces north to the sea, with a deep presbytery that is as long as the nave. The transept arms off the large dome at the crossing are relatively short. Minor decoration for the façade, there is a single-entry door. Once inside, light pastels fill the walls and vault, medallions of murals adding focus.

The area where side aisles would be are filled with three chapels per side with altars, artwork, statues and paintings. In the sanctuary, the cathedra, looking similar to that in Bisceglia, sits on a rise to the left of the main altar, with choir stalls filling the rest of the wall to the apse and high altar. Above the high altar is a lighted statue of the Virgin.


Rear facade, Duomo Vecchio di San Corrado / Church of St Conrad (Old cathedral), Molfetta
Duomo Vecchio di San Corrado, Molfetta

Nicola dropped me at the Piazza Municipio, so I had to explore the point trying to find the Church of St Conrad. The Duomo Vecchio di San Corrado is out on a point into the harbor, facing west with a direct view of the water and port. Tall square towers rise at the west corners to double the height of the nave. No detail notes, and no pictures from inside, so I suspect the building was closed; it was 2pm after all. I did get shots from all sides.


Concattedrale di Terlizzi / Concattedrale di San Michele Arcangelo / Co-cathedral of St Michael the Archangel
Concattedrale di Terlizzi / Concattedrale di San Michele Arcangelo

Based on the pictures, I believe we next visited the Concattedrale di Terlizzi / Concattedrale di San Michele Arcangelo, which I’d added to fill in for skipping Trani. A large cruciform church with a dome at the crossing, it sits on a corner in the center of Terlizzi. The façade entrance has double columns at the ends and between the three doors, pediments over each, and over the entire face. The building looks recently cleaned. Inside, there is what I’d call awkward color usage. Tuscan columns are striped vertically in red and white, A green border surrounds a gold panel that fills the flat faces of the square columns supporting arches. The vault is diamonds of white plaster on a cream background.


Basilica Santuario dei Santi Medici Cosma e Damiano
Basilica Santuario dei Santi Medici Cosma e Damiano

Two more stops, Giovinazzo on the water, and Bitonto about the same distance inland as Terlizzi. Nicola decided on Bitonto, and I had a second stop there, at the Basilica Santuario dei Santi Medici Cosma e Damiano. We found it, but it was closed – an interesting structure, it had been completed 50 years ago. Then on to the Concattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta in the town center of Bitonto, arriving just after 3. And the building was closed. Romanesque, the southwest side has a gallery overlooking the Piazza Cattedrale, which has a monument and seated dining.

Front facade, Concattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta / Co-cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, Bitonto
Concattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta, Bitonto

Here's where better notes would help. From my plans, I would have expected to have returned to the seaside and the co-cathedral in Giovinazzo, but our next stop was 45km to the east in Conversano. An hour later, Nicola dropped me at a corner in the old city, telling me the cathedral was a minute’s walk straight up a street.

Front facade, Cattedrale Basilica Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo / Co-cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, Coversano
Cattedrale Basilica Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo, Coversano

Having gotten wiser, I checked Maps and it was 5 minutes away, and one of two convoluted twisty routes. The Cattedrale Basilica Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo occupies a full block, with the west entry onto Largo Cattedrale, and the north street much wider than the one to the south, which has a tower at the east end. Blessed, it was open, so after several external shots (it was so similar to Bitonto!), I entered the open center door. With little more color than the cream stones of the walls and columns, the dark wooden beams offered contrast. The presbytery begins with arches at the end of the nave aisles with an elevated platform up three steps. The simple altar table is raised two steps. In the apse, two sets of seven wooden bench seats bracket the cathedra, three steps higher. In the north corner, a small sacramental altar sits in a shallow divot with a fourteenth century fresco of Mary, Queen of Heaven.


Leaving, I started my return to the car by reversing my route, checking Maps. However, Nicola phoned me (where I explained I was lost) and the map disappeared from the phone. When I got out of the pedestrian-only hilltop of the old city, I texted him with my location – street names and a square name. His reply was that I was 2 minutes away (but not in which direction.) Flustered and frustrated, I eventually found him with the car; his excuse for not moving being that he didn’t know Coversano. He asked if we were continuing to Acquaviva delle Fonti for the co-cathedral there. Cranky, I asked him to just bring me to the hotel in Bari. I was done for the day.

The car ride back was awkward, with no conversation. In front of Penzione Romeo (two blocks from the train station,) I handed him my credit card and 20€, a smaller tip than I planned. He is a good, patient, knowledgeable and safe driver, but stubborn. The hotel put me in room 16, which was on the second level, where I rolled the bags using the lift. A good size room, there were two extra twins and space for the big roller to be open. As I settled in, across the hall another guest was exiting the community loo – I was so glad to have my own bath. I took a nap after setting out my stuff.

After an hour I headed out to find dinner. Walking north (toward the port,) I skirted the back of the university, strolling through the lush green Piazza Umberto I to Mamapulia. Starting with a glass of ’20 Diecianna negroamaro from Feudi Di Gaugnano, and a bottle of water, I asked for the insalata terra (insalata, rucola, pomodorini, burrata, coppa, carne di maiale, salumi). The salad was gorgeous and delicious. For a main, the zampina pugliese con patate al forno (salsiccia di vitello, patate, carne di maiale.) Previously a pizza joint, this was more a regional feast, with inside and outside dining.


Back in my room, per my last journal entry at dinner, I wanted to finish charging the electronics and then use the WiFi to do more work on the Strasbourg blog. The room faced onto the street and park, so I was hoping for a good night’s sleep.


Wednesday morning I got up to see a few more cathedrals in Puglia. Getting to the train station a tad early, I saw the Rome train off, foreshadowing the following day. The train taking me to Monopoli was full of tourists. Off the train, I discovered I’d left my camera in the hotel, so had to use the mobile phone! It was about a kilometer along two streets to reach the old town and the Basilica Concattedrale di Maria Santissima della Madia.

Front facade,  Basilica Concattedrale di Maria Santissima della Madia, Monopoli
Basilica Concattedrale di Maria Santissima della Madia, Monopoli

With a baroque façade, it has more flourishes and ornamentation than most of the churches I’d seen on my tour the day before. The campanile stands well to the back, in the northeast corner of the campus. Inside, floral red-and-white painting has been used to face the arches and columns, with trim in bright white. The vault is curved with clerestory windows, with a lantern and dome at the crossing.

There, the cathedra sits to the left, up 4 steps, with the main altar at the entry to the quire, and the high altar further back in the apse. The icon, the Madonna della Madia, is venerated at an elaborate altar, with a relic of the “madia” or wooden beam used to roof the prior cathedral also on display.


Front facade, Chiesa Matrice di Santa Maria Assunta, former cathedral, Polignano a Mare
Chiesa Matrice di Santa Maria Assunta, former cathedral, Polignano a Mare

Returning to the station, I caught the train towards Barletta, getting off at Polignano a Mare. Walking from the new town to the old on one of the two routes proposed by Maps, I came to the Chiesa Matrice di Santa Maria Assunta, a former cathedral, on Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. On that bright and sunny day, folks were strolling and business active at the café and crafts boutique. A square bell tower stands to the north, with a narrow park between it and the entry. The sign in the open door prohibited photography during Mass, so I expected to slip in and join the service, but the church was empty. For what appeared to be a small church, inside the space felt huge. Three large paintings are framed into the vault.

Two arches on each side of the nave create side aisles, arches separate the presbytery from the pews. A stone altar rail boxes in the sanctuary with main and high altars. Side chapels are dedicated to the Madonna and Child, and the Eucharist. The apse has walls composed of two levels of framed paintings, wrapping behind the elaborate high altar.


Promenade view, Polignano a Mare
Promenade view, Polignano a Mare

Walking out the door to the west, I came to the promenade wall overlooking the Lama Monachile, a pebble beach far below the cliff I was standing on. I walked back to the station and caught the train back to Bari, where I immediately proceeded to my room. My camera was there; I felt great relief. I thought to find lunch, and my stroll took me by the Basilica of Saint Nicholas, a former cathedral from 1197-1292. Lunchtime, I was able to get exterior shots with few people on the Piazza San Nicola. The west façade is bracketed by two large square towers in the same white stone as the rest of the church. Lintels and frames to the three doorways are carved, with the central door framed by columns supported by bulls.


Basilica of Saint Nicholas, cathedral 1197-1292, Bari
Basilica of Saint Nicholas, cathedral 1197-1292, Bari

With a footprint shaped as a “T”, the nave has two intermediate arches crossing across the aisle, with columns and arches also defining side aisles. At the presbytery, a triple arch announces the sanctuary. The full vault, surmounting a gallery and short clerestory, is flat, with paintings surrounded by gold embellishment. A small baldachin protects the altar.

Down stairs, the crypt is huge, 7-foot columns of multiple design supporting the arches and ceiling. The shrines and tomb of St Nicholas of Myra are behind locked iron gating, but there is good lighting to worship, pray and observe.


Heading southwest, I came to the walls of the Castello Normanno-Svevo di Bari, a reconstruction of the numerous forts built in Bari, as it was a strategic port on the Adriatic. After walking around the large block, passing the gardens of Isabella of Aragon, I stopped at Caffé Federico II. A beer and a calabrese-diavolo pizza were ordered, and I sat looking across at the castle, relaxed and journaling a bit. A German woman sat at the next table, with a margherita pizza. She was awaiting a call from the airlines regarding her lost luggage, so we chatted about my trip and her plans. It was a nice conversation.