The second largest city in southern Italy is also the capital of Puglia and owes its importance to its port, which is mainly used for trade with the eastern Mediterranean. In the course of its history, the city was an Arab Emirate (847 – 871), from 1071 a Norman port and later a city of the German Emperor Frederick II. Under him Bari experienced its greatest flourishing, as is testified by the Castello Suevo (the “Swabian Castle”).
Grave of Saint Nicholas
Around 1100 AD, the mighty maritime cities of Italy all had their saints. Venice had Markus, Naples boasted Januarius (an early Christian martyr), Genoa had John the Baptist and Salerno the Evangelists Matthew. Only Bari was left empty-handed. So the merchants of the city commissioned a band of pirates to rob the bones of St. Nicholas of Myra in modern day Turkey. On May 7, 1087, the pirate ship landed with the sarcophagus in the port of Bari. The precious relic initiated a real influx of pilgrims. At a stroke, Bari had become one of the main pilgrimage destinations in Europe. With the money from the pilgrims a great church was built, which became the epitome of the Apulian Romanesque. After taking over a hundred years to be built, the Basilica of San Nicola was inaugurated in 1196. Especially her crypt, where the remains of Nicholas rest, is a wonderful place of spiritual power. 26 ancient columns bear the mystical space, some of them decorated with beasts and grimaces.
Arab, Norman and Swabian traces in archaic alleyways
The old town is a medieval maze of alleys and stairways, enchanted places and secluded backyards, churches and pre-Christian relics. A walk through the Centro Storico leads to traces of Arabs and Normans, and especially to the German emperor, Frederick II, under whose reign Bari experienced an unparalleled upturn. Even today Bari feels archaic and has a Southern Italian atmosphere. Clothes lines hang above the streets. Business acumen and cosmopolitanism can be found right next to poverty and crime.