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The Magnificent Old Cathedrals of Puglia


Urban II the "First Crusade Pope" travels Puglia in the late 1000s


Puglian Restaurants and Hotels

Map and summary notes on Puglia Cathedrals

Detailed Road Map of Puglia


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 the amazing wagon wheel rose windows of Puglia




Our visits to the cathedrals at Troia, Barletta, Trani, Molfetta, Bitonto, Ruvo di Puglia and Otranto  have resulted in their own photo pages in Paradoxplace.  The other photos below come from the excellent coffee table book above. 


The Ambo shown on the book cover is in Bari Cattedrale.  Several Puglian churches still have a magnificent marble eagle or "toucan" supporting the bible rest in the ambo and standing on the head of a loin-clothed Saint Mark.



Our first visit to Puglia in 2003 was mainly to enjoy the medieval crusader port town of Trani with its drop dead beautiful medieval Norman Cattedrale sitting on the edge of the Adriatic Sea.  There was only time for a few other visits (including the famous Castel del Monte), a couple of good meals and bottle or two of the excellent local red, but it was enough to whet the appetite for another longer visit in November 2006.


Puglia is by far the most interesting bit of "old church country" on the east coast of Italy except for Ravenna, because of building work in the 1000s and 1100s done by the Byzantine church and then the Normans.  Clearly also there was a lot of moolah around. 


The Lonely Planet Guide reckons that there are 18 important Romanesque churches in Puglia, of which 9 have been "preserved" (= mostly debaroqued via serious renovations) in their original style.  The prototype for "Puglian Romanesque" was the Basilica San Nicola in Bari - founded in 1087 by the Benedictine Abbot Elias and finally consecrated 110 years later in 1197.  Following this the other new / replacement cathedrals were built during the next 200 years - in the 1100s and 1200s.


Frederick II (1194 - 1215 - 1250 (56)) built lots of Castelli (including the famous Castel del Monte) in Puglia, and only had time for one cathedral (Altamura - see lower in page).


Typically Puglian Cattedrali are "T" shaped, so the apse bay comes off the transept and there is no chancel or presbytery between the transept and apse.  This also leaves no scope for an ambulatory - indeed ambulatories are almost unknown even in the more traditional "Latin Cross" Italian churches. 


In Puglia there is often a crypt under the (raised) transept, and this typically has the oldest and most interesting column capitals and sometimes frescos.  Many of the transept floors were mosaiced, though, with the notable exception of Otranto, only tiny fragments of these survive (such as in Trani).  In some cases there are also nave crypts or excavations down to an earlier floor surface. 


Most of the old Cathedrals have large "wagon wheel" rose windows in their west facades and south transepts.  No stained glass or curvy tracery, but beautiful and extensive stonework (including Islamic influenced screens such as those at Troia and Ruvo) engineered around the wheel spokes and surrounds. 


The fascinating medieval beastiaries leaping out from the doorway and window surrounds (particularly the Apse windows) and elsewhere merit binoculars and a good telephoto lens.  Stone, of course, weathers and deteriorates over the centuries, particularly in the open (sea) air, so you can be sure that some of the better looking pieces come from various restoration projects during the last 150 years - but the Apulian stonemasons who did this work were outstandingly good and we have yet to see anything that looks really out of place.


Sculptured and mosaic representations ranging from everyday life scenes and bible stories to the last judgement abound, in the case of Otranto taking up the entire Cattedrale floor


The west facade doors usually have lion or gryphon guards and interesting surrounds (including tympanums) and there are a few surviving (narrative) bronze doors dating from the 1100s (including Monte Sant'Angelo, Troia and Trani).



Links to Puglia Cathedrals on other Paradoxplace Pages


** Must See   * Interesting









The most beautiful setting of all the medieval cathedrals of Western Europe, this one named after San Nicola il Pellegrino, dating from the early 1100s and perched on the edge of a still medieval Adriatic port which includes a Knight Templar church.





5 pages of photos from another early 1100s cattedrale - Troia's Cattedrale dell'Assunta in the north of Puglia





6 pages of photos from this recently restored Puglian Romanesque masterwork built in the 1100s.





Amazingly, the entire cathedral floor is covered in narrative mosaics, originally laid in the mid 1100s.





Built in the 1100s and 1200s on the site of an earlier episcopal church.




Not 1100s and not a Cathedral, this early Renaissance (late 1300s) Basilica is the only painted church in Puglia and it's just been restored.


Puglia Cathedrals not yet visited


Bari - Basilica di San Nicola **


Founded in 1087 by the Benedictine Abbot Elias to house the looted remains of San Nicola, the Basilica was the inspirational first of the Puglian Romanesque Cathedrals featured on this page.


Incidentally, the church had earlier agreed with a bunch of entrepreneurial looters (euphemistically termed "seamen") to go 50-50 on the proceeds to be ripped off future pilgrims coming to Bari, if they went and stole the bones of San Nicola, the 4th Century bishop of Myra (in Lycia, which is in present day Turkey).  This is the same Nicholas who features at Christmas time all over the world, and is also Patron Saint of Seafarers.  


The entrepreneurs completed their side of the deal in 1087, but the church reneged on the 50 - 50 bit and took all of the proceeds ...... plus ca change ......... 


The Basilica must have got off to a good start because the crypt was consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1089, but the main church itself was not finally consecrated until 1197 - 110 years later.




Pope Urban II (1042 - 1088 - 1099 (57)) in Puglia


Pope Urban II (Odo of Langery) was a talented French nobleman who has gone down in history as the Pope who launched the First Crusade, after which the medieval world was changed for ever.


He became Archdeacon of Reims, then a Clunaic monk, then Prior of Cluny then, in 1078 at the age of 36, a Cardinal Bishop assisting another Cluny man Pope (Saint) Gregory VII in Rome.   The Tuscan born Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) (c1020 - 1073 - 1085 (65)) was one of the great reforming Popes - fighting inter alia simony, concubinage amongst the priesthood, and the Emperor (Henry IV) - the latter fight about who had the power to appoint Bishops etc (aka "the Investiture Controversy" - an academic sounding term for an all out confrontation which eventually fragmented and destroyed Germany).


Following the death of Gregory in 1085 there was a year's hiatus followed by a short and unsuccessful papal experiment with Victor III, ex-hermit and Abbot of Montecassino,  before Odo was acclaimed Pope Urban II in March 1088 and decided to continue with Gregory's reformist and anti-Emperor policies.  Throughout his Papacy he was "shadowed" by the Emperor appointed anti-Pope Clement III (Archbishop of Ravenna).  Clement had strong Roman connections, which meant that it was 6 years before Urban got in to the Lateran Palace, and the Roman Castel Sant'Angelo only opened its door to him in 1098 - a year before his death.  So it is not surprising that Urban got to know the Normans running Southern Italy  pretty well.


The new Pope was in Puglia pretty early on, consecrating the crypt to the planned Basilica di San Nicola in Bari in 1089 (ironically it was also Urban who canonized Trani's rival Nicola - il Pellegrino - just before he (Urban) died in 1099).  In Trani's Museo Diocesano is a tempura on wood 1200s story of San Nicola il Pellegrino, done with 16 surrounding Sienese style predella events from his life.  The scene on the right shows Pope Urban II handing Nicola's canonization bill to Archbishop Bisanzio just as the First Crusade climaxed in Jerusalem in 1099.  Tghe images are taken from the museum guide.




Urban was good at doing meetings.  After organizing well attended synods in  Rome, Amalfi, and Benevento he returned to Puglia to have one at Troia in 1093.


By 1095 the synod roadshow was operating further north in Piacenza when the Pope got an SOS from the Constantinople based Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus asking for help to fight the Muslims.  The rest, as they say, is history .... the ultimate gig took place on Nov 27 1095 in Clermont in France, and was attended by so many testosterone charged  blokes that they had to assemble outside in a large field to hear Urban "preach" (= launch) what became the First Crusade Meantime, in Puglia, another First Crusade celebrity, Peter the Hermit, is said to have been preaching in Bari in 1095 and must have then rushed back to Germany to be in a position to answer the Pope's call to arms with amazing and fatal speed.


Urban himself was back in Bari in 1098, accompanied by his mate Anselm (of Aosta, Bec and intermittently Canterbury where he was Archbishop when he wasn't persona non grata in England) and others,  to run the Council of Bari - an attempt to sort out the filioque controversy and bridge the increasing gap between Western and Eastern Christianity (despite the generosity of the West in offering crusading "help" to the East).  At this stage the First Crusade was still a work in progress, so maybe Bari was also a good spot to pick up first hand intelligence from the front line, as Bari, Trani, and Barletta were three important staging posts for Crusade supplies. 


Urban II died on July 29,1099, fourteen days after the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders in a religiously indiscriminate sea of blood, but before news of this had reached Italy.


Link to "Medieval Popes in Paradoxplace"



Giovinazzo Cattedrale


just south of Molfetta

Bari - Duomo


Acquaviva Rose ("rosone")

between Bari and Altamura (sort of)



Altamura - Cattedrale dell'Assunta


The only Frederick II cathedral project (1230s) - he was too busy building castles!  The cathedral suffered an earthquake (1316) and the subsequent repositioning of the portal and rose window into what was the Apse.  Altamura is inland to the south west of Bari.


Ostuni Cattedrale

(NW of Brindisi)


Built later (1400s) - another magnificent and more mature Puglian rosone, but don't hold your breath about what's inside !

Not shown - Gravina Cattedrale - with another Puglian rose window.


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