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PDO LAND OF BARI “CASTEL DEL MONTE,” ON THE TRAILS OF FREDERICK II

From medieval castles to Daunian tombs, from the pristine nature of the Murge to picturesque ports: a journey into the territory of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO) D.O.P. Terra di Bari “Castel del Monte.”

Heading north from the capital, straddling the provinces of Bari and Barletta-Andria-Trani, from the sea to the hills of the Murgia, you’ll encounter vast expanses of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO) D.O.P. Terra di Bari “Castel del Monte” olive groves as far as the eye can see. Here, you can retrace the steps of Frederick II amid medieval castles, Romanesque cathedrals, historic villages, and breathtaking natural settings, such as the deep ravines carved over millennia by karstic phenomena.

Refounded in the 12th century by the Swabian emperor, Frederick II, after being destroyed by the Saracens, Altamura is a dynamic town perched on a hill in the Murge region. Strolling through the historic center, you can admire the Cathedral, an interesting example of Apulian Romanesque architecture, and the “gnostre,” which are small closed squares surrounded by various houses that served social and defensive functions in the past. This unique combination of stairs, arches, balconies, walkways, and stone rings provided the backdrop for daily activities and bears witness to a diverse community where Greeks, Latins, Jews, and Arabs coexisted, following the multicultural spirit encouraged by the “Puer Apuliae.” Don’t miss a visit to the National Archaeological Museum and the Altamura Man Museum, where you can discover the history of the only intact Paleolithic human skeleton that belonged to a Homo neanderthalensis living between 180,000 and 130,000 years ago.

Gravina in Puglia, as the name suggests, recalls the deep crack in the rock upon which it stands, and where the inhabitants of the ancient Roman city of Silvium took refuge – a city located on the Appian Way – to escape barbarian invasions. Reach the historic center from the rock-hewn church of Santa Maria della Stella, crossing the Acquedotto Bridge that offers a spectacular view of the ravine. Visit the Cathedral with Norman origins and stop to admire the portal adorned with skeletons at the Church of Purgatorio. Built in the 17th century as a funerary chapel by the Orsini family, it is one of the “Churches of the Dead,” common places of worship for the deceased in Puglia. Before continuing, make a stop at the Museum of the Pomarici-Santomasi Foundation, housing important archaeological collections and an art gallery in a seventeenth-century mansion.

Through the vegetation-free landscape typical of the Murge, arrive at Poggiorsini, whose name evokes the origins and ancient charm of a farming village founded on a hill by the ancient feudal lords of the area. Through wheat fields and olive groves producing EVO D.O.P. Terra di Bari “Castel del Monte,” reach Spinazzola and continue to Minervino Murge, a picturesque village perched on a hill. Explore the village streets and admire the panoramic views from the ‘balcony of Apulia,’ chosen as a location by Lina Wertmüller for her film “I basilischi.” Continue the itinerary towards Canosa di Puglia, discovering its rich history. Beneath the current urban fabric, important tombs richly decorated from the Daunian period have been unearthed, such as the Lagrasta Hypogeum and the Varrese Tomb, whose valuable artifacts can be admired today at Palazzo Sinisi, the seat of the Canosa archaeological foundation. Historical stratification is evident in the Basilica of San Leucio, a paleo-Christian church built on a Hellenistic temple dedicated to Minerva. Not to be missed are the Cathedral of San Sabino, with the mausoleum of Boemondo, a true architectural gem from the medieval period, and just outside the city, the Roman bridge over the Ofanto, which, along with numerous archaeological remains from the Augustan era, attests to the importance of Canosa as a municipium along the Via Traiana.

Descending from Canosa towards the coast, the greenery of the olive groves producing Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO) D.O.P. Terra di Bari “Castel del Monte” prevails. By the sea, make a stop in Barletta to visit the Romanesque cathedral and the Castle, part of the series of fortifications built by Frederick II along the coast to protect the interior from Saracen raids. A small gem not to be missed is the De Nittis Museum, both for the beautiful Renaissance palace of Marra that houses it and for the precious collection of works by Giuseppe De Nittis, an important impressionist painter originally from the Puglian town who worked in Paris.

With its natural harbor and incredible Romanesque cathedral overlooking the sea, Trani is one of the most beautiful towns in Puglia. Take a stroll through the historic center, visiting the ancient synagogues in the Jewish quarter and the Church of All Saints from which the Templars set off for the Holy Land. Then, gaze out from the viewpoint of the Municipal Villa, a 19th-century park built on the cliffs overlooking the sea, visit the Frederickian Castle, and the Cathedral representing one of the most important examples of Apulian Romanesque architecture. Conclude the itinerary at Castel Del Monte, in the municipality of Andria. Commissioned by Frederick II, probably as a hunting lodge or astronomical observatory, the castle, with its imaginative octagonal structure, has intrigued historians, inspired artists, filmmakers, and writers, and fueled mysteries that continue to make it a magical place to visit.

 

 

There is a place where false beliefs and old stories related to extra virgin olive oil can find answers: it is the Oil Museum and historic oil mill “Terre di Traiano” in Andria. It was one of the first educational farms in Puglia, and the agricultural company covers over 100 hectares, with 90 dedicated to olive groves.

It is a fortified farmhouse, located not far from Castel del Monte and on the borders of the Alta Murgia National Park.

Today, the Terre di Traiano Oil Museum is hosted in the places that were once stables and carriage warehouses, later used for the production and storage of both oil and wine.

The journey is instructive and sensory, as it includes the tasting area, the exhibition hall, and the Oil Museum with numerous machines that tell the story of extra virgin olive oil’s evolution up to just a few decades ago.

This place of industrial archaeology allows a journey through the centuries, reaching its modern production of organic extra virgin olive oil.