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Bari

Larger ships dock at the San Vito Dock, a 5-7 minute walk to the Main Cruise Terminal:  from there, the entrance through the Old Town gate is about a 20 minute walk. Taxis and shuttle buses are also available, as are mini-train tours. Trenino-Tour offers a 1½ hour Bari City Tour covering the harbour, Old Town and the main sights.  Eventieturismo offers 1-hour tours.

The most interesting parts of Bari are the Old Town (Barivecchia) and the New Town (Borgo Murattiano), which was designed and built in the early 19th century.  Most of the labyrinthine Old Town was built between the 11th and 13th centuries in the Romanesque style; New Town, the legacy of Napoleon’s brother-in-law Joachim Murat, is constructed on a grid plan, and much easier to navigate.  The Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II runs from the Old Port to the public garden of Piazza Garibaldi, and separates the Old and New Towns.  At the seaside end of Vittorio Emanuelle, the Corso Cavour extends to the south, and is lined with Art Nouveau buildings.  The Via Sparano, a pedestrian mall filled with exclusive shops, runs from the halfway point of Vittorio Emanuelle to the train station at Piazza Aldo Moro, passing through the gardens of the Piazza Umberto I en route.

The Swabian Castle sits at the western end of Old Town, and guarded the city for centuries.  It is surrounded on three sides by a moat; the fourth side faces the harbour, and was originally flush against the bay.  Access is through a stone bridge on the south side of the Castle.  Built by the Norman King Roger II in 1132, the Castle was razed in 1156 by revolting citizens allied with William I of Sicily; it was rebuilt in 1233 by the Swabian King Frederick II.  Today, the castle is the headquarters of the Superintendency for Environmental, Architectural and Historical Heritage in Puglia; it also holds a Gallery of Plaster Casts, reproductions of some of Bari’s architectural and sculptural elements of historical note.  Open 8:30 to 7:30 – Admission € 2.

The Cathedral of San Sabino was built in the Apulian Romanesque style between 1170 and 1178, and stands on the ruins of the old Byzantine cathedral destroyed by William I of Sicily.  The remains of Saint Sabino, a 4th century bishop martyred by Diocletian, are preserved in the crypt beneath the icon of the Madonna.  A local food market takes place in the plaza near the Cathedral.

The Basilica of San Nicola, also in the Apulian Romanesque style, was built between 1087 and 1197.  Among the Basilica’s treasures are an 11th century Romanesque cathedra (bishop’s seat) and an ancient ciborium (altar canopy) decorated with mosaics.  The Basilica also holds the purloined remains of St. Nicholas of Myra.  The saint’s bones were intercepted on their way to Venice, and supposedly weep “manna,” a cure-all that is still sold to pilgrims.  This link takes you to an article on the Manna of St. Nicholas of Bari:  http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/manna-of-st-nicholas-of-bari

Daytrips

Sassi di Matera – literally “stones of Matera” – is a unique human settlement, one that dates back to prehistoric times.  The first dwellings in the 80-meter deep canyon were caves; over time, the caves were enlarged, and the excavated blocks used to close off their open sides.  Eventually, an entire city grew up in the sides of the ravine.  Technical advances in the Bronze Age allowed for cisterns to be dug; later, under the Byzantines, churches were erected.  The harsh terrain helped locals ward off waves of invaders after the Byzantine collapse, and appealed to monastic and utopian communities.  In the 1960s, the inhabitants were forcibly relocated by the Italian government, but since the 1980s, there has been a tourism-oriented regeneration of the sassi.  Geographically similar to Jerusalem, the site has been a stand-in for that city in movies like The Gospel According to Matthew and The Passion of the Christ.

Follow this link to a short video on the site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2u9utrKM3NA

This site provides more detailed info on Sassi di Matera:  http://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/basilicata/matera-italy-sassi-travel

Sassi in NOT handicapped accessible, and if you aren’t able to walk up and down endless flights of stairs, this is NOT the side-trip for you. If you do go, wear comfortable walking shoes.

There are several ways to get to Sassi di Matera from Bari.  Regional train service on Ferrovie Appulo Lucane runs from Bari Centrale to Matera Centrale Train for a nominal fee.  Buses also run between the two cities.  If you book a car and driver, the trip is about one hour in each direction, and costs approximately € 240 (as of 2013).

Train and bus schedules are here:  http://ferrovieappulolucane.it/

Alberobello is the second possibility for a daytrip out of Bari.  This small village is home to 1,500 trulli, small conical houses made of stone.  Legend has it the trulli were constructed at a time when permanent buildings were highly-taxed.  Because of their mortarless construction – the trulli are built of roughly worked limestone boulders stacked one on top of the other – they can be quickly disassembled and moved, making them “temporary” dwellings.  Each trullo is unique, with a one-room interior, though they are sometimes linked together.

The most typical parts of Alberobello include the Monti district, a collection of 1,030 trulli built on a hillside, and Aia Piccola, with its network of narrow, twisting alleyways.  Of the two, Aia Piccola is the less commercialized and feels more authentic.

The more notable trulli are:

Trulli Siamesi – one of the oldest buildings, a double house supposedly lived in by two brothers who fell in love with the same girl

Casa d’Amore – erected in 1797 by Francesco Amore after the King decreed that the residents could build with mortar – today it houses the Tourist Office

Trullo Sovrano – a two-storey trullo, now a museum

Church of San Antonio – a monumental entrance and staircase lead to a church in trullo form – inside, the church follows the Greek cross plan, with side chapels – it also has a bell tower

Basilica Minore dei Santi Medici – a church dedicated to the town’s patrons, Sts. Cosmas and Damian (twin doctors martyred by Diocletian) – the church holds their relics – also of note is a painting of the Madonna of Loreto

The easiest, least expensive way to reach Alberobello is by Ferrovie Sud-Est, a local train operator.  At the Bari Centrale station, look for signs directing you to Ferrovie Sud-Est; the trip to Alberobello is approximately 1½ hours and costs in the neighbourhood of € 5 each way.  (Don’t forget to stamp your tickets!)  From the station in Alberobello, follow the signs to the Zona Monumentale Trulli.

You can find railway schedules here:  http://www.fseonline.it/Default.aspx

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