A Taste of Puglia – Monopoli
Monopoli is situated on the Adriatic Coast between Bari and Brindisi. It is only a short drive or train journey from either. It is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours. I completely fell in love with it. With it’s beautiful old town, colourful little harbor and secluded beaches and coves, it is one of my favorite places in Puglia.
Things to see and do in Monopoli
Wander around the Old Town
The Centra Storica is very lovely, its whitewashed buildings providing a striking contrast to the deep and vivid blues of the sky and the sea. At the end of every street are stone churches, monasteries and squares. Everywhere there are little nooks and crannies and courtyards with green shuttered houses and beautiful balconies adorned with flowers and plants.
Its full title is the Basilica of the Madonna della Madia and it comes with its own legend of a miracle. Construction of the original church began in 11th century on the site of an old Roman temple. It couldn’t be completed as there were no materials to finish building the roof.
Legend has it that on Dec 16th 1117 a raft drifted into the harbor at Monopoli. On the raft was an icon of the Madonna della Madia. The beams and wood of the raft were perfect for completing the roof of the church.
In 1686 the bell tower collapsed, killing 40 people. In the 18th century it was decided to demolish the old church and build a new one. The inside of the church is full of Baroque beauty and is majestic.
I visited on a Sunday and the church was full of people attending a service, which added to the atmosphere. A display inside tells you about the miracle. The icon of the Madonna is also on display. A feast is held twice a year to re-enact the raft sailing into the harbor. The icon is carried through the streets in a small wooden boat.
The Old Harbor
An old archway in the old town leads you to Porta Vecchia. You are immediately hit by a blaze of colour, all the small, brightly coloured fishing boats shimmering in the sunshine. These traditional boats are called Gozzi, usually painted blue or red and bearing the names of local fishermen or saints. They are used to catch fish and octopus. You can watch them bring in their catch or see the fishermen mending their nets.
It was one of my favorite spots. There is a lovely walk around the harbor. When I was there exhibits from a photography exhibition also lined it walls.
On one side this walkway also leads to:
The Castle of Charles V
Charles V built many castles and fortifications in the area. Castello di Carlo V was built in 1525 on a promontory jutting out to sea. Originally used as a defense against pirate attacks, it later became a prison, a function it served until the 1990s. Now it is used for conferences, weddings and exhibitions.
From the castle continue your promenade along the sea wall to come to:
Il Bastione del Molino Ruins
These are the ruins of an old fort which used to protect the town, complete with a couple of old canons. From here there are also fabulous views of the castle.
Continuing your walk will bring you to:
The Church of San Salvatore
Chiesa di San Salvatore is one of the oldest churches in Monopoli and is believed to have been built in the 3rd – 4th century. Legend says it was built by the crew of a pirate ship who survived a shipwreck and that is the reason it is facing the sea. It is a lovely, simple little church with very understated architecture.
The next stop will be the 1st of Monopoli’s beaches.
Old Town Beach
Cala Portal Vecchia is in a very picturesque setting below the city walls and whitewashed houses. The water is incredibly clear, there is a small stretch of sand and a selection of rocks on which to sunbathe.
Just opposite the Old Town Beach is a wonderful ice cream shop.
Just up from the beach is an outdoor bar with lovely beer and aperol spritz.
Just before the beach is also a little bar that does take away cocktails. The Special Mojito was very nice!
If you continue the walk along the coast and above the cliffs there are many other secluded beaches and coves as well as wonderful views looking back to the old town. All offer beautiful swimming opportunities.
I chose one of these to while away a couple of hours and have a long, lovely, leisurely swim in the crystal clear waters.
There are so many beautiful churches in Monopoli. Here a few you may like to visit.
Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Suffragio detta del Purgatoria
I was fascinated by the name and also the wonderful doors. Inside are also fully dressed mummies, all a little macabre.
Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi
It doesn’t have the most impressive of exteriors but it has a beautiful, blue, Baroque interior.
Chieso dei SS Pietro e Paulo
The Church of Peter and Paul Apostles and Martyrs is an enormous church made of marble and set in a lovely square.
People Watching in a Piazza
One of the best things is sitting in one of the lovely Piazzas with some lovely seafood or a glass of wine and watch the world go by. The most famous is the Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi and here I sat with some freshly caught fish and half a litre of wine.
By chance I found this lovely vegan restaurant, La Cucina Della Capra. Beautifully decorated, with a very friendly owner it serves fresh, organic food.
As I said I fell in love with Monopoli, so much so I made 3 visits. I’m sure you’ll love it too.