Puglia is a region of Italy in the south-east of the country, the "heel" of the Italian boot.
Puglia, also known in English by its Latin name Apulia, is probably one of the Italian regions least known to foreign visitors, except for its ports on the Adriatic Sea, like Brindisi, being the departure point of ferries for Greece, whose coast is facing it. This is somewhat unfair, because the place is full of beautiful sites, in terms of historical landmarks, artistic buildings and natural spots.
The remoteness of the region from well-travelled areas may be responsible for this neglect. The advantage is obvious: its beaches are less crowded than in other, more popular parts of Italy. But then, this is the fate of the eastern section of the country, the one that runs along all the length of the Adriatic coast. With the exception of that major naval power, Venice, and some very successful seaside resorts like Rimini, birthplace of the great film director Federico Fellini, eastern Italy has always remained a sort of Cinderella to the rest of the country.
The main town of Puglia is Bari. It has an outstanding old quarter, which also includes the splendid basilica of St. Nicholas, patron saint of the city. Recently new life was injected into Bari's cultural scene, due to new management of the Petruzzelli opera theatre, which in the 20th century had been one of Italy's grandest opera houses.
Puglia - Trani Cathedral
In the surroundings of Bari (provincia di Bari) are several places of interest: Giovinazzo, between the Gargano peninsula and Bari, a lovely seaside resort with a splendid 12th century cathedral, Canosa di Puglia, with many and remarkable Roman remains; Bitonto and Trani, with beautiful cathedrals (the latter, pictured right, is stunning, overlooking the sea); Altamura, with a 13th century cathedral of the Virgin Mary; Castel del Monte, with a castle built between 1240 and 1250 on an octagonal plan with characteristic octagonal towers; Gioia del Colle, with its 11th century castle; Conversano, with a Norman keep; and Molfetta, with its 12-13th centuries cathedral.
Monopoli (pictured below), about 40 km south of Bari on the coast between Bari and Brindisi, is a town of historical importance, with many interesting and beautiful sights, including an ancient cathedral built in 1107 and restored in the 17th century.
South of Monopoli, along the coast, is the popular seaside resort of Torre Canne, near Fasano.
Further south is Ostuni, known as the "white city" due to the colour that dominates its stunning historical centre.
Puglia - Alberobello Trulli
Of particular interest in Puglia is Alberobello, the town of the famous Trulli, singular, ancient stone buildings. The Trulli are what is most characteristic and peculiar about Apulia, something that to an Italian person would immediately conjure up the idea of the Puglia region.
Trulli, part of the UNESCO World Heritage, are traditional limestone dwellings, prime examples of drywall construction which employs prehistoric building techniques, although they were built in the 14th century. A trullo is smaller than a modern house even though trullos sizes vary. Each trullo is formed by a circular base and a cone-shaped roof or cupola. Trulli's peculiarity is that they remain cool in summer and are easily heated in winter. The largest concentration of Trulli is in the town of Alberobello, in Valle d'Itria.
Alberobello is close to both Puglia coasts: on the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea. In every direction, the sea is never far away from Alberobello.
Near Alberobello and still in the province of Bari is the ancient town of Castellana, whose origins date back to the 10th century and maybe earlier. The town is also known as Castellana Grotte because in 1938 a vast system of natural underground caves and grottos was discovered 2 km from the town. Castellana Caves are world famous; they are the biggest cave system in Italy and one of the most important in Europe not only for their size but also for their spectacular beauty. One of them, the splendid White Grotto which is at 70 metres below ground level, is considered the most beautiful grotto in the world due to the purity of its crystalline concretions.
Lecce is another major town of Puglia, arguably the most beautiful, considered the capital of Italian baroque. Much of Lecce's current appearance dates back to the 17th century when, thanks to mercantile money and counter-reformation zeal, the town underwent a process of transformation - culminating in the birth of a major centre of baroque art in Europe. Most of Lecce's buildings and houses were given a glorious baroque veneer of putti, gargoyles, garlands, stone cirlicues and wreaths of exuberant decorations. Examples of this baroque style are Basilica di Santa Croce, Palazzo del Governo, Cathedral, Palazzo del Seminario, Chiesa del Rosario and Porta Rudiae.
Puglia is an ancient land, still containing Roman remains: examples of them are an amphitheatre in Foggia, and an arch, mausoleum, bridge, many funerary buildings and a 6th century basilica in Canosa di Puglia. Greek ruins are to be found in places like Egnazia and Lecce.
Many of Apulia's coastal towns are very picturesque: whitewashed villages with a Greek feel to them.
The staples of Pugliese cuisine are essential condiments and herbs (capers, basil, oregano and olive oil), hard and soft wheat pastas, typical Mediterranean vegetables and local cheeses.