October 29, 2011 Bari and Castel del Monte

Mary: After breakfast at the hotel, John and I decide upon a walking tour of old town Bari. We hope to visit several churches and take a look at the waterfront. The patron saint of Bari is St. Nicholas who is our modern Santa Claus! Although much of his story has been debunked as just myth, he seem a right jolly old elf who helps children and gives away gifts.

In this bas-relief we spot on our walk, St. Nicholas is flanked on his right by three children in a barrel whom he brought back from the dead. An evil innkeeper had been keeping the children in brine so he could serve them to his patrons for dinner. Pretty ghastly.

St. Nicholas saves the pickled children

Next we go to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Construction was started in 1087 and finished about 100 years later.

Basilica di San Nicola, Bari

Inside there are several pictures of the saint. In the fabulous Vivarini altar painting below St. Nicholas is standing just to the Virgin’s left and is holding three golden balls. The balls are an attribute that he is usually shown with. They come from the story of his throwing bags of gold through the windows of three girls who were too poor to have a dowry. So between the two stories, he is kind to children and gives gifts – Santa Claus!

Madonna and Saints

We try to get into several old churches but they either locked up tight or having a wedding. We will have to try again tomorrow.

John: We finish our ramble around the old town of Bari and are hungry for lunch. We go the restaurant, Giampaolo, across from the hotel,only to find that it opens at 12:30, in about 10 minutes. We return at 12:30 and are told “10 minutes”. We return in 15 minutes and find everyone still scurrying about getting ready to open. Some minutes later we are seated. It is clear that Italians have invented the art of software schedules.

We order starters and pastas. Mary has a salad and orecchiette with turnip greens. The stems of the turnip greens are included and are a high point of the dish.

Orecchiette with turnip greens

I start with “Pepata de Cozze” which are a giant bowl of mussels a la moules mariniere, but with a healthy does of ground black pepper to give the broth a zing. The dish is great, but huge.

Pepata de Cozze or a giant bowl of mussels

My pasta is fresh tagliolini with clams in a light tomato-accented broth. Yum.

Tagliolini with clams

As you imagine, this was not a fast lunch, and having started late, we are concerned that we may be pressed for time seeing Castel del Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located near Andria, about 60 km away.

Not wanting to face the same narrow streets as we did on the way in yesterday, we fight Jack the GPS for a while, but finally get to our target. We park the car, take the shuttle bus up to the castle, and tour this amazing structure. “Structure” is all there is, other than text explanation. Reconstruction is ongoing; much of the structure and all of its furnishings and decoration were destroyed or stolen over the last 500 years or so. Nonetheless, we learn a great deal about the castle and its builder.

John at Castel del Monte

ALERT: History Rant!

Frederick II is my second-favorite Swabian (after my good friend Waldemar). Living from 1194 to 1250, he was a member of the Swabian House of Hohenstaufen, and holding the titles of King of Sicily (which included southern Italy), Holy Roman Emperor (which gave him much of northern Italy) and King of Jerusalem (the grand prize, which he achieved through negotiation rather than actual fighting). As such, various popes were afraid and jealous, and worked hard to put upstart Fred in his place. (One pope objected to the fact that Jerusalem was won without shedding blood. What were the Crusaders to do?)

Frederick spoke six languages, including Arabic. He was a poet and scientist, and strove to understand and appreciate Islamic culture. But in the end, the popes prevailed, and Frederick’s dynasty crumbled shortly after his death in 1250. We are left to wonder what would have happened had European leaders who followed Frederick adopted his world views. Would relations between the Christian and Islamic worlds be significantly less contentious than they are today? We discuss this and other questions deeply on the way back. For some reason Jack plots a totally different (and direct) course than our outbound leg. We are puzzled.

We get back in good order, check our emails, and visit the hotel bar for wine, snacks and ham and cheese panini. It’s a white wine called “Fedora” of the Castel del Monte DOC, produced by Rivera vintage 2010. It’s a blend of Pampanuto, Bombino Bianco and a little Chardonnay. We recognize only one these grapes, but the wine is very tasty nonetheless.

Tomorrow, we hope to visit the trulli houses of Alborobello and finish some church-viewing here in Bari. We have to be careful, though. Europe exits daylight savings time tonight and we don’t know whether our US-tuned smart phone will automatically compensate or not!

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