Apulia miscellany

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Getting out of Rome for an occasional long weekend is necessary if you want to hold on to your sanity, and it hadn’t happened since last summer. So two days near Bari were a breath of welcome hill and sea air.

The Puglia region – Apulia is its name in English – is by definition Italian deep South, so the stereotype is that of a traditional and change resistant culture. But Puglia goes counter to these notions, and is a refreshing surprise if you look beyond the guide-book history and art when you visit.

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Make no mistake, the art is definitely there, and its most famous expression is probably the wildly baroque “putti” and cherubs on Lecce façades, as well as church frescoes to rival those of Assisi. Not to mention the fascination of the Middle Ages conveyed by the various massive forts built by Frederic II – one of the most unusually eclectic rulers of his time -, including the mysterious Castel del Monte. Or the “Trulli” houses built with prehistoric building techniques. It even boasts an Impressionist painter on-par with his more famous early 20th century Paris peers, who is honoured in his home town of Barletta.

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Puglia’s got it all, but this isn’t a travel blog, so you can check out details elsewhere: the beaches are indeed among Italy’s most natural – the coastline is over 800 km long – and the food is great. Except for the unbelievably varied starters, it’s often a simpler and lighter cuisine than in other regions.

In many ways, I get the feeling Puglia today is modern.

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Notions of southern Italy usually go hand in hand with visions of religious processions with Madonnas and local Saints and rigid Catholic mores, yet they elected a gay activist as Governor of Puglia in 2005, and he served until 2015. There are unexpected sprawls of industrial areas and factories along the main north-south highway that runs down the middle of Puglia, and even in little towns, shop windows mix trendy fashions and modern jewelry. The elderly do wear the expected blacks, greys and browns: the men sitting like sentinels on the village squares or at card tables in the cafés, and the women on kitchen chairs, chatting in the alleys outside their homes. But apart from these, the other “Pugliesi” seem to favour livelier shades.

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On this recent visit I realized that the architecture, the new houses along the coast but also inland don’t conform to any particular pattern. When you drive through most of the rest of Italy, you’ll find bland models of same-colour (beige) post- WWII houses that often look boxy and at best like a typical child’s drawing of a house: square or rectangle topped by a regular sloping roof. I could never figure if it’s just cheaper to build that way, or if local building specifications are so arcane it would be too much trouble tackling them.

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Conversely, on a walk through a couple of really little towns along the coast in Puglia, most houses displayed some original features, so the inhabitants had obviously strived for at least a modicum of creativity. Colourful windows and balconies and unusual shapes produced an overall optimistic feeling for a region with solid history-based roots. In fact, long glorious histories often lead to exclusively museum-based economies, but Puglia gives the impression it’s kept what’s best from its past but is also moving along nicely into the future.

(to be continued)

Do you have a favourite region you like to visit time and again?

All photos © http://14thcountry.com

 

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20 Responses to Apulia miscellany

  1. BunKaryudo says:

    There’s a trick to integrating the traditions of the past into modern buildings. Some places merely obliterate everything old and replace it with cheap-to-build concrete boxes without any distinct local character whatsoever.

  2. Joel F says:

    Italy is such a beautiful country. I wish i can visit it someday. Thanks Bea for touring us around through your beautiful photos and writings.

  3. zipfslaw1 says:

    Random comment: Bari is also the name of a language spoken by about 500,000 people in what is now South Sudan. I used to look for information on it and have to plow through page after page about the Italian Bari.

  4. ellenbest24 says:

    Puglia, beautiful Italy. But oh to escape the drudgery of Rome… “What” how decadent is that? to step from being bathed in beautious history and warm climes, to being spoiled with sumptuous food, beauty, warm climate and history.
    While I dream in England of more than ten minutes sun. I know one day soon I will return to Italy. To the bay of poets, Lerricci my favoured spot. Once the warmth has seeped in to my bones and its waters soothed my skin, off I will go toTuscanny’s sweeping landscape a place I miss the moment I leave. *sigh*

    • Bea dM says:

      Italy does indeed have so much to offer, and living in Rome would be even more of a challenge if it weren’t for the sun! Do try to make it to Puglia next time, Tuscany is just somewhere that gets written up more often 🙂

      • ellenbest24 says:

        We have been to see Andr`ea Bocelli in his home town lajatico, it is in the theatre de silencio. A stunning outdoor theatre nestled in a valley in the heart of rural Tuscanny. We tend not to go to the touristy parts, we like to live and eat as the Italians do. Puglia is on our next route. 😇

  5. HI Bea,

    Thanks for sharing your travels with us. I loved the pictures you posted. It makes me feel as though I was right there with you.

    Nancy

  6. Barb Knowles says:

    Where is your like button?

  7. Barb Knowles says:

    I’m embarrassed to say that I know very little about Italy and have never been. You make this town/area sound so enticing. As to the question of a place we like to visit over and over, it used to be the beach towns of New Jersey, and now Baltimore, Maryland. Outside of the U.S., it’s Iceland and Spain. But I haven’t been able to get there often.

    • Bea dM says:

      There are so many beautiful places to visit in the world… and today you can “visit” lots of them with gorgeous documentaries… and through people’s blogs 🙂 I pine for places that are “different”, my concept of “exotic”: Iceland I’d love to go to, and frankly, if I weren’t already here, except for Venice, Italy wouldn’t be in my bucket list!

  8. herschelian says:

    What a wonderful post – I have been to Italy several times , but not to Puglia (Sorrento and St Agatha de Dui Golfi are the furthest south I’ve been). I love your descriptions of the contrasts of expectations – gay activist Mayor!!! Tell us about the food, what are the specialties; how about the wine they drink – do they grow/produce wine in Puglia?? Can’t wait for your next post!

    • Bea dM says:

      Sorrento’s lovely, haven’t been to St. Agata. Thanks for telling me what you’d like to read about! I wish more people would let me know what they’d be interested in 🙂

  9. It sounds as though a weekend getaway was long overdue. Looks like an absolutely gorgeous area and your pictures are very nice. It would be nice if every area could keep the best of the past while still moving forward.

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