On the last leg of our New Year’s Eve road trip around southern Italy, we decided to spend three nights in the beautiful and unusual Puglia region including two nights in Bari and one night in Matera.
Starting in the city of Bari, we spent an afternoon and an evening exploring Bari Vecchia (“Old Bari”) and then transitioned to the modern shopping area of “New Bari”. A beautiful seaside town with great designer boutiques (if you can afford that kind of stuff), however Bari was a little quiet and over priced (Tip: DON’T settle for a drink at Barcollo in Piazza Mercantile unless you enjoy paying 6 EUR for a Spritz made of 90% ice with no snacks included) for our tastes.
The next day we planned on doing a bit of city-hopping, starting with the spectacular limestone caves of Grotte di Castellana. It was one of the most interesting things we did on the trip, but unfortunately no photography was allowed so you’ll just have to experience it for yourself!
After that we skipped over to explore the curious trulli of Alberobello, the stunning coastline of Polignano a Mare, and finally the distinctive cave city of Matera.
Don’t forget to click the photos to see more information in the caption 🙂
The Bari Cathedral was more like a neighborhood chapel in comparison to the grandiose churches in Rome, but it was still gorgeous and worth a visit.
Bari by Night
In the basement of the Bari Cathedral.
I don’t care to tell you how long we were lost in the notorious Old Bari labyrinth.
In the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola (better known as Father Christmas).
It’s incredible how much money a dead guy is paid each year.
Beautiful 17th-century wooden ceiling in the Basilica di San Nicola.
grotte di castellana + alberobello + polignana a mare
Soaking up our last few minutes of sunshine before diving deep into the grottoes of Castellana, a must-see for anyone in the area.
My pictures simply don’t do it justice.
Interestingly, no one knows the exact history of the trulli (the little white, “dwarf” huts). No historian is exactly clear on who started this supremely unique UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Despite the snow, it wasn’t really cold at all – a perfect day to explore the winding streets of trulli.
Each of the little trulli sell essentially the same touristic products, so it’s interesting to see when someone tries to break out of the mold and attract shoppers in a unique way.
Checking out the gorgeous costal views from Polignano a Mare.
More beautiful winding streets. I don’t know who the Italian medieval city planners were, but I think they were on crack.
Cheap but delicious eats at a night market in Polignano a Mare.
city of caves.
One of the oldest human settlements in the world, Matera is a city of caves, carved into the side of mountains found in the Italian Puglia region.
Actually one of my favourite places on the trip for its unparalleled uniqueness. Knowing the history behind the sassi (literally Italian for “stones”, meaning the caves inwhich the people lived), was key to appreciating this curious city.
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
Inside a sassi dwelling, you can imagine how unsanitary and miserable it must have been. They would have several people and livestock like cows, horses and chickens, all living a cave at once.
What surprised me most was how intricate and large the dwellings were. They all had decorative ‘shelving’ and higher ceilings than my room does now …
For a reasonable 2EUR each, you can take a tour (unfortunately, only available in Italian and Japanese) tour of a furbished sassi dwelling, fixed with the ‘traditional tools and furniture ‘ that would have been found in the average household (I’m not certain of what year, but given the history that I know, I would assume just before the government emptied the sassi during the 1950s).
Beleive it or not, this was a home for 7 people.
A very realistic horse stands in the corner, reminding us that they actually used its manure to heat the cave during the winter. If our heating bills get any higher, we may need to resort to this.
Oddly complementing the cave homes are the city’s medieval streets. You could spend hours wandering the multi-layered labyrinth of stairs, corridors and hallways.
It’s amazing to think that while the rest of the world was inventing cars, dishwashers and freezers in the 1950s, Matera was still using a horse and wagon.
Some of the sassi homes are locked and reserved for only tour guides, but many of them are still available for viewing. Its up to you just to keep exploring until you find them.
Each dwelling was built directly on top of one another, so you’re home could be directly on top of 4 more.
As the sun began to set, it was unbelievable how the city changed from a quiet tourist destination, to a lively street festival. It was like we left Matera and found ourselves in an entirely new city.
Matera by night: an entirely new world.
When visiting Italy during the Christmas season, there’s no possible way you can’t see a Presepe Vivente (Live Nativity Scene). I beleive you’ll never see anything like it anywhere else in the world. The level of effort, creativity and commitment to the story is truly amazing.
Here, an actor enthusiastically – and convincingly – portrays the part of a Jerusalem local, speaking out against the sale of slaves.
Again, Presepe. Madness.
Remember when I mentioned that Italians don’t quite get excited like they do for a live Presepe? I litterally had to elbow people out of the way to get a glimpse of some teenagers dressed up at Mary and Joseph.
Talk about a photogenic city …
bonus pics: tropea
On the way back to Siracusa, we stopped in the lovely seaside Tropea for lunch. Unfortunately for us, most things are closed for the winter, but it was still beautiful to take a quick walk by the ocean before finishing the long drive home.