As with so many other Italian cities, Bari was developed and occupied by Greek, Roman and Byzantium peoples. The oldest mention found of Bari is 181BC and, at the time, it was called Barium which is translated “house” from an ancient language of the area, Messapic. It became part of the Roman Republic in the 3rd Century BC and the name was changed to Bari.
Bari is a port city on the Adriatic Sea with a very active harbour and the economic hub of Southern Italy. It is the Capital City of the Metropolitan City of Bari and the Apulia Region with a leading university and is also known for the Basilica of St Nicholas. It was also known as a major slave depot with Slavs being brought across from Dalmatia, Prussia, Poland and other Balkan states.
We were taken by coach into the town and our first visit was to a restaurant where we were given a taste of a loved dish of pasta and meatballs. Sadly, for most of us it was tasteless and most people left the food on their plates. We had been told that it was wonderful and really special so were very disappointed. From there our guide took us on a 1-hour tour of the main city sights.
As we walked North along the main street to the older parts of the city, (most of the area to the South was developed during the 1960s) we passed the Palazzo Della Provincia, a fairly modern building built in 1867 to fill a piece of land on which a medieval building had been destroyed. In front of the Palace building is a statue of Niccollo Piccinni, a composer who was born in Bari in 1728. A bit further down the road on the same side is a large bronze sculpture of a horse made in 1985.
We then entered a maze of small lanes, in the first one of which we saw a group of ladies, sitting outside their homes, handmaking a variety of pastas. One lady has been doing it for over 30 years and makes up to 100kgs every month. We walked down the next lane which had just been washed and cars which were parked there had been splashed with dirt and mud. At the end of the lane was the Bari Cathedral of Saint Sabinus. Before we went into the Cathedral, our guide told us about its history and what was special inside. It was the seat of the Archbishop of Bari-Bitonto. We then went inside and looked on in silence. It was beautiful.
The more famous church in Bari is the Basilica of St Nicholas, Patron Saint of Bari. We walked down to the Basilica which is larger than the Cathedral and has 2 statues of Nicholas, one in the area in front of it and another, very big and ornate, inside the church itself. The story of Nicholas is a special one. Born in Southern Turkey, he was orphaned at a young age and he donated his inheritance to the poor. He was a devout Christian who became Bishop of Myra. He was buried there in 343 but when the Turks took over the area in 1087, a group of sailors went to Myra to collect Nicholas’ relics as they were concerned for their protection and they are stored in the Basilica. St Nicholas is also the Patron Saint of sailors. A wedding was to take place there later in the day and the Basilica was beautifully decorated with flowers and a red carpet had been laid out at the entrance.
From there we walked down to the Promenade at the beachfront, a beautiful spot. We walked along the Promenade, known as the Lungomare, at the end of which was The Fish Market. It was closed by the time we were there as it opened early in the mornings to sell the fresh fish catches.
Ferarese Square, in which we saw diggings from the first street in Bari, was beside the Promenade. There were shops and cafes as well as lovely buildings around the Square. At one end of the Square, preparations were being made to set up for a show with chairs, tents and a bandstand.
We took a slow walk back to the coach which was still where we had been dropped off. On the way we walked down a street lined with trees on either side of a central pedestrian median. It was beautiful. Some of the group decided to stay in town and were able to do so as buses would once again do shuttle runs.
After the coach had returned us to the harbour and we were on the balcony of our stateroom, we could see that, in fact, the spot where it had parked to drop us off and pick us up was not far and was in a straight line with the ship. It had seemed like quite a distance as we had driven along the inside of the harbour fence and then turned into the parallel road going in the opposite direction for the same distance.
Bari may not have been as beautiful as Taormina or Crotone but it was definitely worth the visit due to its interesting history.
NOTE: Italy seems to refer to many places, even if quite small, cities and I can only think that this might be because they each have a Cathedral, the original requirement for a city as opposed to a town.