Occupying the southern ‘stiletto’ or ‘heel’ of Italy, Puglia is a long way physically, but more notably culturally, from the sophisticated modernity of Italy’s northern cities like Milan. Whilst tourists are attracted to its beautiful coastline, the quaint trullis (dry stone conical buildings) in the towns of the Itrian valley, and not least the area’s marvellous cuisine, when visiting the centro storico of towns like Gallipoli and Bari, it almost feels like being transported back to another era when, to coin a cliche, life was a bit simpler and more relaxed. How long this mode of living survives is debatable, as it feels like a rapidly diminishing feature of 21st century Europe.
Here are a few cultural impressions arising from our recent visit:
Fishing and seafood
Being sandwiched between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, it is not surprising fishing plays a significant role in the local economy. Ports like Gallipoli and Bari still have a large number of traditional fishing boats bringing their daily catch on to the shoreline.
The spiky creatures in the picture are sea urchins
The streets of Bari’s Barivecchia and Galiipoli’s centro storico comprise narrow passages opening out on to communal piazzas which usually contain a church. Whilst wandering the streets, there seems little private space. Living rooms and kitchens are open to the public gaze and friends and family engage in conversation whilst children are free to roam.
Every doorway has a distinctive character
Whilst some doorways lead into courtyards
Often it is possible to glimpse men playing cards or a barber shaving a customer
As in other Italian cities, football is still avidly played and watched
Men tend to dominate public space often engaged in animated conversation or simply playing cards
In contrast, women will often be looking out from their windows or balconies
It seems religious festivals are a regular occurrence which made for some atmospheric lighting along Gallipoli’s passages
We happened upon two ‘weddings’ during our visit to Gallipoli. Only one it seems was genuine
Puglia is renowned for its cuisine. It is Italy’s biggest supplier of olive oil and durum wheat (for pasta), and fruit and vegetables are in abundant supply. As such, it is no surprise many foodies make a pilgrimage to the area.
No need for Tesco express here
We enjoyed some superb meals comprising locally grown produce at a fraction of the cost you would pay elsewhere in northern Italy or Britain.
In an area with such a string emphasis on public engagement, cafe culture is vibrant.
In a Starbucks free land, it was surprising to find Puglia has its own cafe chain called Martinucci We found ourselves drawn towards its sumptious pasticceria, not least the pasticiotti – local shortcrust pastries with various fillings.
Puglia’s urban highlights
Lecce is probably Puglia’s most attractive town with respect to its well preserved baroque architecture and university, but we fell for the following three places:
Known as the ‘white city’ for obvious reasons
And finally, to inspire a burst of song, the statue in Polignano sul Mare of Domenico Modugno, the composer and singer of Volare (flying)