A Taste of Puglia – Bari
Bari is the 2nd largest city in Southern Italy and is the capital of Puglia (Apuglia). It has a population of around 350,000. It is also a major city port facing the Adriatic sea.
It is more like 2 cities, the ancient and modern. Even then there is a mixture of styles and influences in both. This is because Bari was conquered by so many people, the Greeks, Romans, Goth, Byzantines and Normans to name a few.
Vecchia Bari (the old city)
As the new Bari was built and wealthy residents moved out of Vecchia Bari (the old city), it became known as a den of petty crime and drug dealing. With its maze of tiny alleyways it was the perfect hiding spot. A road was even built around the old Town so that residents from outside didn’t have to pass through.
Now it has been renovated and the old buildings restored. It is a fantastic, atmospheric place and it feels as though you are stepping back in time.
It is a very tight knit community and doors are always left open. The windows of the houses are very small, making them quite dark inside, so residents spend most of their time outside. The old women sit on chairs outside or shout across balconies. Gossiping is a major pastime and there are no secrets in Vecchia Bari.
Locals Making Orecchiette
The nonnas will also be out side making Orecchiette, the local pasta for which the region is famous. It is unusual as no eggs are used, just semolina flour and water. It’s name means little ears. It tastes delicious. Another local speciality is riso, patate e cozze which is rice, potatoes and mussels.
Basilica di San Nicolas
The Basilica di San Nicolas stores the relics of St Nicholas who is otherwise known as Santa Claus. They were brought to Bari in 1087 and are stored in a tomb in the crypt. It is an important pilgrimage destination for both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
Other noteworthy sites include the Cathedral of San Sabino.
There is also an enormous castle, Castello Normanno-Svevo which was built around 1132.
One of the main pleasures is just wandering around and losing yourself (literally) in the labyrinth of small streets and alleyways, soaking up the atmosphere and going back in time.
Free Walking Tour
In the morning I went on a free walking tour. Our guide Anna was full of enthusiasm and knowledge. She also knew everyone in Vecchia Bari and everyone greeted her as we walked. We were introduced to one of the best loved Orecchiette makers and were even invited into someone’s house. Everyone gave us greetings, the motto in Bari is ‘no-one is a stranger’.
We also met another lady who provides broccoli flowers for local cafes and restaurants.
It was one of the best walking tours I have done. It was lovely to meet some of the local characters and was a good orientation of the old city. We also saw some of the new town with its mixture of modern and Art Deco buildings. There are huge tree-lined shopping streets like Parisian walkways and Art Deco theatres.
There is also a huge cistern system under Bari.
There is also a beautiful marina.
The area by the harbour is where the locals head for fresh seafood.
Bari is a lovely place to visit and an excellent gateway to the rest of Puglia. My walking tour was with free walking tours Bari: Info@freewalkingtourbari.it