We followed the coastline of Puglia for almost its entire length. At times the road hugs the sea and takes you through sleepy towns that are full of what appear to be the holiday homes of people from somewhere else. The coastal area is sparsely populated, but is no doubt full of people in the height of summer. The beaches looked particularly inviting, even though it was still quite cool in the late spring when we visited.
We stayed in the pretty town of Trani with its impressive Duomo perched on the edge of the sea. It has a lovely rose window and bronze doors from the 12th century by Barisano da Trani. I particularly liked the sculptures on the outside of the church.
We visited Otranto, which was one of republican Rome’s leading ports for trade with Asia Minor and Greece. Under the Byzantines it was an important toehold of the Eastern empire in Italy. In 1070 it fell to the Normans. Turks attacked in 1480 and slaughtered its inhabitants. The 800 survivors were promised their lives if they renounced Christianity: all refused. The Norman Duomo, founded in 1080, houses the bones of the martyrs. There is a 12th century mosiac floor and an excellent crypt worth a visit. Also worthwhile is the castle, overlooking the port.
Gallipoli looked quite impressive as we drove towards it, past long beaches with reasonable sand. (I grew up beside the white sands of Main Beach on the Gold Coast, so it takes a bit to please me) The name Galliopoli is Greek for beautiful city. The old town is built on a limestone island linked to the mainland by a bridge built in the 16th century. As is to be expected, the city has a colourful past, with various people squabbling over ownership. Today it is important for fishing and tourism. There are some lovely old buildings to see, but not a great deal to do. We wandered around a largely deserted town, had a good seafood meal, stayed overnight in a hotel overlooking the sea and left the next day for Matera.
I generally don’t like to write negative blogs, so I try to pick out the things I like in the places I visit. We were disappointed with much of our visit to Puglia. There are some interesting things to see and the food is excellent, but as I said in the first Puglia post there are some truly ugly parts of Puglia. Since I wrote the post I have read an article by AA Gill, a British travel writer, written for the Australian Gourmet Traveller. I think his observations of Puglia are very perceptive, if a bit harsh, and captures a lot of what we thought about the area. I will repeat some of it here. Look for the Gourmet Traveller (August edition) for the full article or perhaps look on AA Gill’s website.
“Puglia doesn’t have anything worth having except for figs and olives and some fish and a lot of time. It is a very poor place, and it has been for longer than anyone has spoken their particular variation of Italian. A unified state didn’t improve much or serve them any better. It’s a long way from Rome down there, and the power has slipped easily into the hands of a particularly relentless version of the mafia. There is endemic corruption, protection and quite a lot of kidnapping. The local government is communist. Communists like big capital projects. They like to build things. Building things is a way to a better future. Socialism has meant making this bit of Italy very built. Being poor, they receive lots of grants from the EU and the central government, so the communists build roads and business parks and spaghetti factories and high-rise housing for for Albanian refugees. Except they don’t build them, of course. The mafia does the building, with substandard material and poor quality finishing. Sometimes they don’t even bother finishing at all. The hulks of central planning graft litter Puglia….”
We did see the very unattractive parts of Puglia. We didn’t go to Lecce as we had so much trouble getting in and out of some of the towns we visited because of the wretched roads and lack of signs, that we couldn’t face the bother of finding our way there.
There are some interesting things to see in Puglia, but be selective or you may be very disappointed. It is not Tuscany.