Perhaps one of the most famous residents of Bari was a 4th Century Christian saint and Greek Bishop named Nikolaos…better known as Saint Nicholas. He was also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker, because he had a reputation for secret gift giving such as putting coins in the shoes of people who left them outside at night. Yes, THAT Saint Nicolas! If you walk the winding medieval streets of “Bari Vecchia”, or old Bari, you will come across the Church of Saint Nicolas, which was dedicated to him. The church was built in 1087 and there is a shrine that houses half of his bones. The other half was transferred to Venice in 1100. The church also offers a beautiful collection of art from the XV Century, and the remains of some XIV century frescoes.
As you walk around, you will also notice that at one time, Bari Vecchia was surrounded by walls, some of which still remain. As you weave through the streets, you will come upon a variety of sites worth visiting. There is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. As there are many such named cathedrals throughout Italy, this one was also known as Saint Sabinus of Canosa. Saint Sabinus was known to be a prophet and legend has it that he protected the papacy from poison on several occasions. His remains are in this cathedral, which is why it was given its name.
If you are interested in historic castles, you will not want to miss visiting Castello Svevo (Swabian Castle). Originally built in 1132 bordering the sea and surrounded by a moat, it was destroyed by King William I of Sicily in 1156 and later was transformed into a prison and barracks. In the XVI Century, Isabella of Aragon transformed the castle once again into her residence. Today, it is used for exhibitions. Another historic castle is Castel del Monte (Castle of the Mountain), located on a hill close to the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte. Built in the 13th Century, it is a very small castle, once thought to be more of a hunting lodge however its octagonal shape, with a tower in each corner, clearly demonstrated that it was indeed a fortress.
And of course, there is opera! To see a performance in The Petruzzelli Theatre is a sight (and sound) to behold. The late 19th Century was the golden age of Bari, as a thriving seaport. Two brothers, Onofrio and Antonio Petruzzelli, who were ship builders and traders proposed the plans and it took five years to build. Finally finished in 1903, The Petruzzelli was home to opera, as well as many other concerts. It was destroyed by fire in 1991 ad completely reconstructed with public money in 2008. The first opera season of 2009 brought grand opera back to Bari with a performance of Puccini’s Turandot.
Other amazing sites include the Pinacoteca Provinciale di Bari (Provincial Pinacotheca in Bari), which displays some of the most important works of art in Puglia from the XV Century to contemporary art. You can also explore the Itria Valley and view the homes with their unique style of dry stone roofing called Trulli, or explore the beauty of the Caves of Castellana with its incredible collection of stalactites, stalagmites and fossils.