The second largest city in southern Italy and the capital of Apulia, Bari's importance stems from its harbor, which primarily serves trade with the eastern Mediterranean. The city became famous in 1087 when local sailors brought home the remains of Saint Nicholas seized in Asia Minor. A magnificent cathedral was built to house the relics: the Basilica di San Nicola. The church with its splendid Greek orthodox crypt is considered the archetype of Apulian romanticism. The 1,000-year-old port district with its narrow streets, quaint squares and winding stairways remains a vibrant center of night life.
Grave of Saint Nicholas
Around 1100 AD, the mighty lake towns 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 tracks 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 also especially to the German emperor, Frederick II, under whose reign Bari experienced an unparalleled upturn. Even to-day Bari looks 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.