The capital city of the Apulia (Puglia) region, the Adriatic port of Bari is an oft-underestimated destination; it’s modern city heart juxtaposes against its rich, historic past. With mild winters, it’s also an ideal place to visit during the off-peak seasons (although it’s worth bearing in mind that some attractions may not be open, or only be open on a limited schedule).
Whether you’re here for a long weekend, or just a day, you won’t be disappointed by what Bari has to offer.
Called ‘Barium’ by the Romans, under their rule it grew into an important port with a ripe fishing trade. In 1071, it was captured by the Normans and Peter the Hermit preached the First Crusade in the city in 1096. In 1117, a Civil War broke out after the murder of the archbishop. Razed by William the Bad in 1156, Bari later became an independent duchy under a succession of various rulers from the 14th century — eventually passed to the kingdom of Naples by the Sforza family in 1558.
In World War II, Bari was the only European city that faced chemical warfare; a German bomber attack sunk over 20 Allied ships including a US ship covertly carrying mustard gas. Many records of the event were destroyed, and those that remained were declassified in 1959.
Held every May, the Festival of the Translation of the Relics celebrates and honours the life of Saint Nicolas with medieval parades, dancing, and live music. The Archbishop of Bari holds a communion and people pay homage at Saint Nicolas’s tomb (in the Basilican of Saint Nicholas).
Bari also hosts a Mediterranean music festival every June, with Ancient Greek chorales, French baroque pieces and Sarband medieval concerts.
Art, Architecture, and Attractions
Bari has a wonderful old town, with narrow cobbled streets which form a labyrinth around themselves. But don’t miss out on some of the architectural and cultural highlights this city offers, including:
It would almost be rude to visit Bari and not visit the Norman castle. Built around 1132 by King Roger II of Sicily, it was destroyed in a city-wide sacking in 1156. According to popular belief, in 1221 Emperor Frederick II met St. Francis of Assisi in the castle. Despite its age, the castle is still in remarkable condition, and thanks to its elevated position has fantastic views of the city.
Lungomare Nazario Sauro
This wonderful stretch of promenade runs around a kilometre from the harbour to the Parco per Cani, and is a really picturesque way of spending an evening. There are bars and hotels for a post-dinner aperitif, and the sunset views across the sea are mesmerising.
The Basilica of Saint Nicholas
Founded in 1087, this church is one of the four Palatine churches of Apulia. Built to house relics of Saint Nicholas, these now lie beneath the altar in the crypt. The Romanesque church has an opulently-decorated interior, with a beautiful gold ceiling and frescoed paintings.
- The Orto Botanico dell’Università di Bari: the botanical gardens run by the University of Bari, cultivated in the 1960s. It boasts an impressive range of Italian flora, Pugliesi plants and around 40,000 herbs.
- Pinacoteca Provinciale: This modern gallery boasts a wide array of art, spanning the 11th to 19th Centuries. You’ll be able to find exhibits specialising in local Apulian art, but also notable Italian artists such as Paolo Veonese, Tintoretto and Giovanni Bellini.
Fancy visiting this wonderful region of Italy? View our villas in Puglia >