Puglia (Apulia) is made up of the heel of the boot of Italy, or the Salento peninsular, and stretching further inland up the east coast of Italy. An arid area, with only a few torrential rivers, it is the least mountainous region in Italy. But, it is one of the richest archaeological areas in the country; the region has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Provinces in Puglia are: Bari, Barletta-Andria-Trani, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce and Taranto.
This Bronze Age dolmen was first discovered by archaeologists in 1909, and excavated the following year. Although much of the earth that once covered the standing stones had long since disappeared from the dolmen, archaeologists did find a rich archaeological deposit. Besides remains of ceramic vessels, stone knives and animal bones, the remains of at least 6 individuals had been scattered about within the burial chamber. Two humans were found in a foetal position.
Just outside the small town of Montalbano, this Neolithic dolmen is also known as ‘Tavola dei Paladini’ – or the table of champions. Like megalithic monuments elsewhere in Europe, dolmens in Puglia are also associated with local folklore traditions. In this case, having been made by giants in a challenge to see who could lift the biggest stone. Despite suffering damage at some point in the recent past, this particular dolmen is a good example of funerary structures built around 5,000 years ago.
Egnazia is a large, multi-period site that has evidence of continuous human occupation from the Bronze Age to the early Christian era in Medieval times. Although known about for its extraordinary archaeology since the mid 16th century, it was systematically excavated during the 20th century. As a result of this work, many features of the various periods of habitation have been left exposed, and an excellent, well signposted trail set up for visitors to easily understand this amazing site. [Website]
Castel del Monte, or ‘Castle of the Mountain’, with its wall of 25 metres high was once part of a more elaborate citadel built by Emperor Frederick II in the mid 13th century. That curtain wall has not survived and all that remains is an octagonal castle 56 metres in diameter, with eight octagonal towers. Often described as one of Frederick’s more fascinating castles – with a unique blend of Classical and Islamic features, it was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1996 and appears on the Italian one-cent euro coin.
Built on the remains of an earlier Christian church and a Roman house, the Cathedral in Otranto was founded by a Norman Bishop in 1068, and consecrated in 1088. At over 1,000 years there are a number of fascinating features to see, in particular the 12th century mosaic, which covers the entire floor of the nave and apse, and the relics of Martyrs of Otranto. Fragmentary frescoes have survived in the crypt, in which many of the supporting columns make use of Greek and Roman columns.
Trulli are buildings with a cone shaped roof that are built using local limestone rock without the aid of any mortar. They are particularly common in the Itria Valley of Puglia, but it is the town of Alberobello with its streets of trulli that was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1996. In this area they can also be seen in a more rural setting, either singly or in groups of as many as five. As a UNESCO designated attraction they are now commonly used to provide accommodation.
La Città Bianca, or the white city, is a citadel town still surrounded by Medieval fortifications, the walls and houses of which are still regularly whitewashed to give the town its eye-catching appearance for miles around. Occupation of the hill stretches back to the Stone Age, burials from caves on the hill excavated by archaeologists can be seen in the museum. Otherwise it is Ostuni’s Baroque heritage that attracts tourists today; including beautifully decorated palazzi and a cathedral and Bishop’s Palace.
In an unassuming building next to the Spanish Steps Virgilio, but with wonderful views over the harbour, the museum showcases the archaeology of the area in an around the city of Brindisi. Founded in October 2002 by Salvatore Faldetta the collection has around 350 objects, which are displayed on three floors. These artefacts tell the story of a city with a rich and complex past, owing to its position on a natural port and often called the ‘gateway to the east’.
Although the Museo archeologico Nazionale di Taranto was founded in the 19th century, it has just undergone a major renovation, and opened to the public once again in mid 2016. Beautifully displayed is an astonishing collection of artefacts, from Palaeolithic figurines found in nearby caves to the usual objects associated with the Roman period of the city. For anyone interested in Magna Grecia, and the colonisation of Italy by the Greeks, the sensational collection of Apulian ware will not disappoint! [Website]
Near the archaeological site of Egnazia is the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Egnazia. Following substantial redevelopment, the museum re-opened to the public in 2013. Thirteen well designed and highly informative galleries with the best artefacts spanning the 3,000 years of Egnazia’s past, from the Bronze Age settlement, the Messapian and Roman cities, to the episcopal settlement of the early Christian era. A ticket to the museum includes entry to the site. [Website]