Southern Italy’s history is a complicated and tangled web! Puglia’s strategic position and its fertile soil made it a very attractive proposition for colonization. In reality exploitation was the reason, nevertheless conquerors fed the cultural, architectonic and gastronomic patrimony that the region showcases today.
A little historical summary of how we became who we are today:
1st millennium BC
Illyric and Italic peoples settle.
8th century BC
Greeks from Sparta began to arrive, reaching via the Ionian sea the gulf of the peninsula, where they settled and founded Taras.
the Romans ousted the Greeks and rapidly colonised the region. Wheat, olive oil and wine were produced as the empire was quickly expanding and food was needed.
Hannibal crushed Roman forces at Cannae in Puglia but the Romans eventually retained control of the region, which continued to thrive as an agricultural centre and trading post for the east.
the Romans completed the Appian way, linking Rome with Puglia. The columns in Brindisi were erected and later the theatre and amphitheatre in Lecce.
Roman Empire fell and Italy and the Ostrogoths took Puglia under their control.
the Longobards started to conquer much of Italy competing with the Byzantines that controlled the southern part of Puglia and the main towns with harbours until the XI century, both fighting occasional Saracen incursions; this brought Gallipoli island town to be fortified.
Under the Normans is formed the Duchy of Apulia. Later in the century they conquered Sicily where they established their power base. Puglia becomes a provincial outpost under Norman rule. It’s in these years (1087) that sailors brought the relics of San Nicola to Bari and the first stone for the construction of the Basilica di San Nicola is laid, it will be finished in 1197 attracting pilgrims from all over the world.
after 2 years of work led by Pantaleone, the mosaic in the Otranto Cathedral is completed.
Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, aka “Stupor Mundi” inherited Puglia, where he eventually spent much of his time. His enlightened reign saw a flourishing period for the arts and a relative peaceful and prosperous time for the whole region. Many of his castles, such as Castello Svevo in Trani and Castel del Monte in Andria, survive, along with some wonderful Romanesque constructions such as the Cattedrale di San Sabino in Bari.
Puglia became part of the Kingdom of Naples where the French Angevins ruled. First trulli houses were erected in settlements in Alberobello.
a Turkish force laid siege to Otranto. On capturing the town, all male inhabitants over the age of 15 were killed. The ageing Archbishop, refused to renounce his faith, so he was cut into pieces in public and his decapitated head paraded through the town on a pike. Ostuni Cathedral and the beautiful rose window get rebuild and finished in Gothic style in 1495.
King Ferdinand V of Aragon took the reins and Otranto, Bari and Taranto were fortified against other Turkish invasions. In 1549 the Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce was began and in 1695 only completed.
the Treaty of Utrecht granted Puglia to Austria.
the Spanish defeated Austria at the Battle of Bitonto and reclaimed Puglia as their own. The Turks and the Venetians attacked repeatedly hoping to gain a foothold in the region. Imposing and beautiful fortified masserie are built all over Salento by landowners.
the French took control again, the house of Bourbon abolished feudalism and reformed the justice system. Economical and social life improved dramatically and the population tripled. Infrastructures (new roads and reconstruction of ports) and agriculture (almonds, olive trees and vineyards were planted also on the coastline from north to south) bring higher standards of quality of life for more Puglians.
Puglia joined the united Italy during the Risorgimento. Eclecticism architecture style spreads in Bari and Salento.
Mussolini intensified the production of grain, olives and wine as Italy attempted to become self-sufficient. The aqueduct of Puglia (the biggest in Europe) is inaugurated in 1914 but officially completed 25 years later because of the first world war.
the Allied invasion ousted German forces, and the ports of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto underwent heavy bombing from both sides. It’s in 1940 that the amphitheatre in Lecce was discovered and brought to light during works for the construction of a bank in the main square.
the Basilica di Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo is designed by Renzo Piano. The canonization of the saint will happen 2 years before the church gets completed in 2004. It is at today (2017) the second most visited catholic pilgrim destination in the world.
Puglia is officially becoming a touristic destination for foreigners, as it already is the most visited region in Italy by italians. The Petruzzelli theatre in Bari is finally reconstructed and reopened after 18 years from the fire.