La Grande Cacata

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As I entered Piazza della Signoria in November, I was surprised to see it occupied by a massive excremental aluminum sculpture. Big Clay #4 is the actual title of the 12 meter high work by Swiss artist Urs Fischer.

The sculpture is actually an enlargement of pieces of clay that the artist modeled with his hands.  He took 5 small pieces of clay and squished them around in his hands, then piled them up.  Then it was ‘supersized’ to 12 meters high.  The artist’s fingerprints and palm creases that were impressed onto the surface of the clay were also reproduced. An interesting idea…. too bad it came out looking like poo.

The installation of this sculpture is not a successful pairing of contemporary and Renaissance/Classic art. If I sound like a harsh art critic, let me say that I am not one of those people who just dislikes contemporary art.  In fact, one of my favourite musei in Firenze is the Museo Marino Marini, housed in the deconsecrated ancient church of San Pancrazio. Marini’s 20th Century sculptures are elegant and classic and his melding of the historical and the contemporary is extremely successful.

In my determined quest to find a positive angle on this work, I looked at the photo below and wondered if the artist was trying to (unsuccessfully) mimic the spiraling vortex of Giambologna’s Ratto delle Sabine.  This is not the case, since I found out the sculpture was not made for this site.  It was previously displayed outside of the Seagram Building in Manhattan, where it was known as the ‘Big Turd’.

The work is supposed to be thought provoking.  The only thought that came to me was ‘Now I know what it would it look like if a brontosaurus took a big dump in the middle of Piazza della Signoria!’ The sculpture is up until January 21st, so you only have  4 more days to see it here.  My title may sound a bit harsh, but many other colourful, scatologically oriented comments were heard in the piazza and around Firenze. I don’t think many Fiorentini will be sad to see it go!

Ciao, Cristina

Buon Anno 2018

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Topnine2017a

Buon Anno a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’, vicini e lontani!  Spero che 2018 porta buona salute e gioia a voi e ai vostri cari. Happy New Year readers of ‘Un po’ di pepe’ near and far.  I hope 2018 brings you and your loved ones good health and joy!

WordPress sent me some stats which i find so interesting I need to share them. In 2017, Un po’ di pepe had almost 7,700 views from 101 different countries!  I wish I could visit even a few of them!  This post is also a milestone, as it is post number 100!  Last month I also reached 250 followers.  Number 250 is the lovely Cher who I met at my exhibit in Pietrasanta, Lucca. Cher, if you are reading this, I will be sending you a ‘prize’ soon!  Based on the number of views, the most posts of 2017 were:

#9 A post full of sundrenched photos from my daytrip to Trani this summer#8 At first, it seemed like this post didn’t get as much love as I thought it deserved, so I was felicissima that Hairstyling in Ancient Roma made the list! I am an archeology nerd, and obviously some of you are too!

#7 Torta Caprese all’Arancia the delicious flourless chocolate cake recipe I posted to celebrate receiving a Cannolo Award makes the list again this year

#6 My grand amico Peppe Zullo Il Cuoco Contadino will be thrilled that the post about him and his Azienda Agricola made the list!

Peppe Zullo nel vigneto. Photo Nicola Tramonte

#5 Pomodoro Day is a new post with links to 2 previous posts about the history of  pomodori and my family’s annual passata di pomodoro canning.  There are a lot of photos and they are very red!

#4 An introduction to my paese Benvenuti ad Orsara di Puglia made the list again this year.  Viva Orsara! I need to publish a photo essay of black and white photos taken this year.

#3 I am so happy to see Mercato Inspiration in the top 3! This post is a link to a photography blog post written by someone who purchased a small print from me. He writes about how meeting me and talking about art inspired him.  Molto cool!

#2 is my About me/Chi sono page but since it is not an actual post, the #2 spot goes to another old favourite.  Grano Arso is about a resurfaced gastronomic tradition in Puglia that honours the resilience of our contadini ancestors.  In September I read a piece about grano arso at the Association of Italian Canadian Writers Conference. It will be published in a special edition of the journal Italian Canadiana in 2018.

#1 by a long shot once again is Italiano per Ristoranti my handy Italian menu pronunciation guide.  This post is from 2014, and updated in 2016.  It is available from the post as a downloadable PDF.  I would like to expand on this post and make it into an ebook once I have time to figure out how to do that!

Bruschetta (broo.SKET.tah)

In October, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by fellow blogger Silvia Spatafora.  The link to her bilingual post is in L’Intervista con Silvia. Also molto cool!In 2017 I saw U2 perform live for the 7th time and I went to Italia twice!  If you read the posts In Partenza and Autunno in Italia, you know that the second time was not planned very far in advance.  Spontaneity is good!  I have several blog posts coming in 2018 related to the short trip! I also have a few book reviews to post.  My goals for 2018 are simple….less stress, more exercise, more art and writing!

I would love to hear which post was your favourite.  What would you like to read more of in Un po’ di pepe?  Looking forward to writing more cose interresanti /interesting stuff in 2018.

Vi auguro un 2018 piena di gioia e buona salute!  Ciao, Cristina

Panettone Fatto in Casa

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I started experimenting with panettone last year. I did not do it intentionally… it was an act of desperation.  I had made lievito madre– mother yeast or bread starter that I was keeping for months, and needed to feed at least once or twice a week.  I had to do something with the part you need to give away or throw out.  It was invading my cucina! I ran out of people to give it to, and did not like throwing it away.  Then I found out I could use my lievito madre to make panettone. Yeast still had to be added, but the lievito madre added flavour and texture to the dough and helped it stay fresh longer.  I adapted this overnight panettone recipe, replacing 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of my starter.  It was pretty good.  This year, I no longer have my starter, plus I lost all of my recipe experimentation notes. Mannaggia!  So I had to start all over, but luckily my panettone turned out better.  This time I used a biga (BEE•gah), a sort of ‘mini starter’ that ferments overnight.  After trying a lot of different things, I can finally post the recipe, just in time for Natale.  Traditionally, panettone is made with uvetta and canditi-raisins and candied citrus peel.  I love panettone, and canditi, but I usually end up picking out the raisins, so I used dried figs soaked in grappa instead.  If you like raisins, they do grappa well too!  Panettone dough needs to rise 3 times, so this recipe is not recommended for the inpatient or inexperienced bread baker.  Be sure to read my notes at the bottom.  My previous post Panettone details the history of this lovely dolce.

Panettone con Fichi, Noci e Arancia/Panettone with Figs,Walnuts and Orange:

Make a biga the night before:

  • 100 g 00 flour or all-purpose flour (200 ml, ~¾cup)
  • 100 ml milk (85g, a bit more than ⅓ cup) at room temperature
  • 1 (7 g) package active dry yeast (not quick rise or instant) Lievito di birra is what I used*
  • 15 g honey (10 ml, 2 tsp)

In a glass bowl or measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in the milk.  Add honey, then flour.  Cover with a tea towel and leave overnight or longer. It should be bubbly and doubled in size

Soak fruit: 250-500 ml (1-2 cups) chopped dried figs (or apricots, cranberries, raisins or other mixed dried fruits).  Cover with 30ml (2 tablespoons or 1 ‘shot’) of grappa and soak overnight.

Make the dough the next morning:

  • Biga made the night before
  • 400g flour (~800 ml, 3 ¼cups)
  • 60 ml white wine (¼ cup, 4 tablespoons)
  • 100 g sugar (120 ml, ½ cup)
  • 100 g butter at room temperature (125 ml, ½ cup, 1 ‘stick’)
  • 6 g salt (1 tsp)
  • 3 eggs (plus one extra yolk if the eggs are small)
  • 5 ml (1tsp) Fiori di Sicilia (or 1 tsp vanilla extract or ⅓ a vanilla bean and 5 drops of orange oil) **

Make a well in the center of the flour. Add the biga and other ingredients.  Mix with a wooden spoon.  Knead by hand on a floured surface for 10-20 minutes or electric mixer 10 minutes followed by a few minutes by hand. Cover bowl with a tea towel and let rise for a minimum of 3 hours.  Longer is better*

Add fruit and canditi:

Deflate the dough and pull it into a rectangle. Top with:

  • Grated rind of 1 large orange
  • Drained figs or other dried fruit soaked in grappa
  • 125-250 ml (½ to 1 cup) Canditi-candied citrus peel
  • 125-250 ml (½-1 cup) chopped walnuts

Roll dough up into a log, then knead on a floured surface to evenly mix in the fruit, nuts, and canditi. Shape into a ball.

Place the ball in a 750g panettone paper mold, a metal coffee can lined with parchment paper, an 8 cup glass pyrex measuring cup lined with parchment paper, or a new terra cotta pot. Whatever you use, make sure the sides are tall enough to allow for the dough rising. Let rise 4-5 hours*** I had to let mine rise overnight in the oven-turned off with the light on.

Slash a cross on top of the panettone and place a small square of butter in the middle

Bake panettone in a preheated 190° C (375° F) oven for 45-50 minutes or until the top is done.  If the top is becoming too dark, cover with a piece of aluminum foil

Cool panettone upside down to prevent falling.  I could not find bamboo skewers, so I used my bamboo knitting needles to skewer the bottom then hung it upside down over a large pot. I don’t know if this step is really necessary, but after all this work, I am not willing to find out! It also looks cool.  See photo:

The panettone should keep fresh for 5 days in a plastic bag- if it lasts that long!

Notes:

Amounts can vary depending on temperature, humidity and type or size of ingredient.  I have included ml and cup measurements in brackets, but measuring ingredients by weight is the most accurate.

Fig and chocolate is also a nice panettone combination.  For best results, freeze the chocolate pieces before adding to the dough.

I made my own canditi-candied orange peels, using the instructions on Domenica’s postIt was easier than I thought and I won’t be buying canditi any more!

*Lievito di birra is beer yeast.  It is available from some Italian supermarkets in packets.  Use ‘active’ dry yeast, not instant or quick-rise.

**Fiori di Sicilia is a vanilla citrus mixture that smells like panettone in a bottle. It can be hard to find and expensive.  Vanilla extract and orange oil is a good substitute.

***Dough rising times are variable, especially in colder weather. If you are having difficulty getting your dough to rise, there are some things that can help.

  • Place the dough on the counter while a pot of water is simmering on the stove
  • Place the dough in the oven (turned off) with the light on
  • If really having difficulty, preheat the oven to a ‘keep warm’ setting, then turn it off and place the dough in there.
  • Abbia pazienza-Just be patient!

Buon appetito e Buon Natale, Cristina

Panettone

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Panettone is a Christmas and New Year’s tradition in Italian households. Panettone (pah∙neh∙TOH∙neh) literally means big loaf of bread. Panetto is a small loaf of bread and the suffix ‘one’ makes it a big bread.  The origins of panettone probably date back to the Ancient Romans, who made a leavened bread with honey and raisins.  Bread has always been a symbol of family ties, as in ‘breaking bread’ together. In the middle ages, a sweet leavened bread with dried fruit was incised with the sign of the cross before baking as a blessing for the new year, then distributed to the family.  A slice was also saved for the next year.  In the 1400’s it became custom to make il pane di Natale-Christmas bread, with white flour and costly, hard to find ingredients that made it special.  This was called pane di lusso-luxurious bread, which in Milanese dialect was ‘pan del ton’.  Modern panettone originated 500 years ago in Milano during the reign of Ludovico Sforza (1481-1499). There are several legends regarding its origin.

In the most romanticized legend, Ughetto, son of nobleman Giacometto degli Antellari fell in love with the beautiful Adalgisa. To be near his innamorata, he pretended to be an apprentice baker for her father Antonio, who was called ‘Toni’.  Desperate to impress Toni, Ughetto created a rich bread with yeast, butter, eggs, sugar and canditi- candied cedro and orange peel. The bread was an overwhelming success and people came from all over Milano to taste this ‘pane di toni’ – Toni’s bread.  Duchess Beatrice d’Este, wife of Ludovico Sforza, was so taken with the love story that created this bread that she convinced Giacometto to let his son marry the baker’s daughter.

Another version takes place in Ludovico’s kitchens. There was a custom to prepare a particular dolce for guests on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, it was burnt, sending the cook into desperation.  One of the kitchen workers, a boy named Antonio, offered the bread he was making for himself using the dough left over the day before from the original dolce. It was a domed sweet bread with grapes.  When the invited guests asked what this delicious dolce was called, the cook replied ‘pan del toni’.

The final legend is the simplest, but probably the most believable.  It involves Suor Ughetta, a young nun in a very poor convent in Milano. To make Christmas Eve more festive, she made a dolce for her fellow sisters with butter, sugar, eggs, canditi and uvette.  Uvetta means raisin in Italiano, and in dialetto Milanese it is pronounced ‘ughetta‘. Whichever legend we choose to believe, today panettone is synonymous with Natale for anyone of Italian origin.

In 1919, baker Angelo Motta opened his first pasticceria in Milano. He let his panettone rise 3 times, to the familiar cupola or dome shape on a cylinder that we see today. Previously the shape of panettone was more schiacciata-lower and more compact. Motta also invented the paper wrap and box. A few years later, he had a competitor in Milano, Gioacchino Alemagna. Their competition led to industrialized production of panettone, with factories replacing the small pasticcerie. They also began exporting all over the world. Today both Motta and Alemagna are owned by Bauli, based in Verona. Last year almost 120 million panettoni were produced in Italia!

I will be enjoying my panettone and prosecco for Capodanno-New Year’s eve, and making panettone French toast with ricotta if there is any left over! I have been experimenting with making my own panettone since last December.  My next post will be a recipe for Panettone fatto in casa!  Read about other dolci di Natale in this post. Buon appetito, Cristina

Autunno in Italia

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Returning from my short trip to Italia, as usual I was back to work the next morning.  This did not help with the cambiamento di fuso orario. I have so many posts to write, but now they will have to wait until after Christmas. Until then, here is a quick summary with some highlights from my viaggietto.  It was a bit of a blur….at 17 days, I think this was my shortest ever trip to Italia!

I had not been to Italia in autunno before. The fall weather was mostly clear and sunny, with a few days of serious rain. I envisioned myself having every piazza practically to myself….was I ever mistaken!  My first few days were in Roma the last weekend of October.  The Pantheon was packed with more people than I have ever seen in July. I could barely make it through the crowd to throw my coin in the Fontana di Trevi!  I found out that some European countries have their school midterm break around this time.  In Italia November 1st, All Saints’ Day, is a holiday and many Italians take ‘il ponte al primo novembre’, an extra-long weekend.  Even so, the guard at the Pantheon said ‘Qui non c’è bassa stagione’-there is no low season here.  My 2 partial weekends in Firenze were similar.  Smaller places, especially the seaside are quiet at this time of year, but the cities always have a lot of visitors, especially on the weekend.  Despite my utter shock at the hoardes of tour groups I was not expecting, Roma was glorious as usual. One day I want to spend a whole month in Roma.

Franco joined me for the first 9 days-this was only confirmed a week before leaving! He had not been to Roma in a very long time, so we decided to visit the Colosseo and Foro Romano.  I took way too many photos of this was obsessed with the way the sunlight struck this green door on the Tempio di Romolo in the Foro Romano. The rest of the day involved a lot of walking and was centered around a visit to Poggi to buy Fabriano Rosaspina paper for my art retreat, and meeting a friend in Monti.  We ended up doing everything on my Un Giorno a Roma itinerary and a few extras.

Monti

Spending just 4 days in Orsara di Puglia was a mad dash. This was not enough time to visit family and friends, so I greeted a lot of them in the street.  I heard the same phrase from anyone who was not expecting me ‘Ma sei fuori stagione!’. I guess I was out of season, but technically so were they!  It was hard to recognize people bundled up in their puffy piumini. November 1 is a holiday, and in Orsara also the festa Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje.  In Italiano this would be Falò e Teste del Purgatorio (bonfires and heads from purgatory). Sometimes we simply call it ‘Tutti Santi’.  I wrote about the festa in this post, and now that I have been there myself, I will add photos.  There were zucche and bonfires everywhere.  My balcony was decorated with zucche.  I took so many photos I am still going through them, but here are a few. 

Il fuoco e le zucche di Antonella e Domenico

The festa was absolutely amazing and also a moving, sprirtual experience-for me and 20,000 others. The weather was clear and crisp, but it was very cold at night.  My little casa has no heat, so I borrowed an electric space heater.  Brrrrr.

I encountered a lot of olives on this trip. It seemed every road near Orsara was full of parked cars and people with crates and olive nets.  I was not used to seeing the trees full of ripe olives!  I enjoyed spending a day at my Nonno’s olive grove. One evening we walked past the frantoio, the olive mill, which is always closed the rest of the year.  The divine smell of pressed olives lured me in.  I photo-documented the entire olive oil extraction process for a future post.  Then it was arrivederci Orsara until July.  Unfortunately, I missed my family’s olive harvest by one day, but I was able to pick olives in Gugliano.

Next was Firenze for 2 half days. I had not been for several years and it felt good to be back. A spectacular view was the reward for a long morning walk along and across the Arno to Piazzale Michelangelo. A torrential downpour started just as we arrived so the return trip was very wet. I had to blow dry myself, then got back out in the rain to catch the train to Lucca.  We arrived in Lucca just as thousands of attendees were leaving the Lucca Comics and Games Convention.  For security reasons, the front of the stazione was closed off.  My ride was waiting out front, so by the time we got there, I looked like I had been through the spin cycle.  The imposing medieval walls of Lucca were barely visible through the rain and the mist.  Next came the bumpy half hour ride to Casa Berti near Gugliano for the Catalyst Art Retreat.

Casa Berti

Luckily a fire was waiting.  Franco was in charge of roasting castagne, then he caught the last train back to Firenze to fly home in the am. The retreat was wonderful and the location stunning.  My fellow artists were an inspiration.

My corner of the studio at Casa Berti, looking out over olive trees

Artist Mary Cinque working on a woodcut in the studio

The retreat ended with an exhibit at Villa Coloreda near Pietrasanta

I also found time to visit Lucca, pick olives and cacchi, make limoncello cake with freshly pressed olive oil and finally try Bistecca alla Fiorentina.  Lots of material for future posts.

#cooldudesroma

So much for a ‘quick’ summary! I’ll end with a few notes about travelling to Italia in autunno:

-It may be ‘low season’ for airfares, but unless your destination is a small town or a seaside area, do not expect to be alone! This is especially true on weekends. In the cities, midweek hotel prices are lower, but they go up on weekends.

-Dancing around an almost empty Piazza Navona is possible……before 8am!

-The days are shorter.  It gets dark at 16:30 to be exact. Take this into account when making plans for the day.

-The weather can be variable. Even if the days are sunny, nights are cold.  Dress ‘a la cipolla’, in layers like an onion, and be prepared for rain too!

Il Ponte Vecchio 12 Novembre

Buon Viaggio, Cristina

In Partenza!

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Sono in partenza!  I am going on a recently planned trip to Roma, Orsara di Puglia and Lucca!  My amica Shannon, who some of you may remember from this post, has organized an artist retreat just outside of Lucca…so of course I have to go.  It just so happened I already had vacation scheduled for the week before, with no plans!  The week before the retreat includes November 1, which is the festa Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje in Orsara di Puglia. For years I have been hearing about what an incredible experience the festa is.  Even my parents tell me stories about it. I have not ever attended because…. well really, who goes to Italia in November??? Apparently now I do!  I managed to rearrange my schedule and piece together another week to my vacation and off I go! Have a look at this lively 47 second video.

I had to find out how to say ‘artist retreat’ in italiano so I could explain what I was going to be doing to my famiglia.  The 2 best options I found are ritiro artistico and soggiorno creativo.

I arrive in Roma for the weekend, then will take the train to Orsara for the festa and a few days of hanging out and visiting with amici e famiglia.  I must admit I am a bit concerned because my little casa does not have heat!  Luckily the forecast is sunshine, and I have 2 of my Nonna‘s big blankets. I may buy a space heater or else bake biscotti every night so I can use the oven! My next stop is Lucca.  I will be at the retreat for a week and at the end of it we are having una mostra, an exhibit in Pietrasanta.  After the retreat I have a day and a half free, which I will probably spend in Firenze, since that is where I fly home from. As I explained in my summer post ‘Chiuso per Ferie’, which hardly anyone read, new posts will have to wait until I am back.  I will be posting to Instagram regularly, so check that out to see what I am up to!

Arrivederci, Cristina

PS The photo was taken while flying over Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver

L’Intervista con Silvia

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One of the greatest things about blogging is virtual ‘meeting’ and collaboration with other bloggers.  Recently, I received a very nice email from fellow blogger Silvia Spatafora, of Il Blog di Silvia Spatafora:

‘Trovo molto interessante la tua storia, il fatto che tu sia nata in Italia ma che ti sia trasferita da piccola in Canada e, soprattutto, la tua passione per l’Italia! Il tuo blog è davvero interessante. Adoro che scrivi un po’ in inglese e un po’ in italiano e sarei curiosa di scoprire di più su di te, il tuo blog e il modo in cui mantieni allenato il tuo italiano. Per questo avevo pensato che sarebbe carino farti un’intervista scritta da pubblicare sul mio blog.’

In inglese:  ‘I find your story very interesting; the fact that you were born in Italia but moved to Canada at a young age, and mostly your passion for Italia.  Your blog is really interesting.  I adore that you write a bit in English and a bit in Italian and I would be curious to discover more about you, your blog and the way you keep up your Italian.  For this reason, I thought it would be cute to do an written interview with you to publish on my blog.’

Silvia was born and went to university in Palermo, and has been living in Madrid since 2010.  Silvia is passionate about teaching Italian! She teaches Italiano per Stranieri/  Italian for Foreigners at several schools in Madrid, as well as privately and also does translation.   She published my intervista on her blog today in both Italiano and inglese.  Read it on Silvia’s blog here. 

Grazie Silvia!

 

Ruote di Trani

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In August I took a lovely daytrip to Trani, a quiet, sun drenched fishing port on the Adriatic.  While walking through town and the port in the late morning/early afternoon there were times I felt like I was walking through a movie set! One of the reasons is because of all the macchine d’epoca or vintage cars that I saw, as well as motorini and biciclette. I have compiled a few photos of these vehicles in this post and, for lack of a better title, I am calling it Ruote di Trani or Wheels of Trani.

I was disappointed because I did not take any photos of my favourite macchina, as every time I saw a Cinquecento, a Fiat 500, it was speeding past me too quick to snap a photo! I have a bit of an obsession with them-but only the old ones.  It turns out I actually did photograph one though! 

This is a Fiat Cinquecento Giardiniera, also known as the 500K or the Autobianchi Giardiniera.  It is basically a Cinquecento station wagon, made from 1960-1977.  If you think I am joking, cover the back half of the car, and you will see that the front half is totally 500ish!  In 1970, production was transferred to Autobianchi, a Fiat subsidiary in Monza.  Later models were branded as Autobianchi rather than Fiat. Notice this one has porte di suicidio or suicide doors, which are hinged at the rear instead of the front.  They make it easier to get in and out of the car, but are a safety hazard at higher speeds.  I wrote about porte di suicidio here. Notice the bird photobomb in the corner!

The Centoventisei or Fiat 126 was a more modern model to replace the Cinquecento in 1973.  The 126 never became as popular.  My Zio used to have one that was a Robin’s egg blue.  It were very popular in the former eastern bloc countries because of its fuel efficiency.  Later models were made in Poland as the Polski 126p.

This ‘vintage’ photo of a white Fiat 126 was taken by me on my previous visit to Trani, in 1994.  My Zio had one just like this.  I think it even had the same dented front.  Thankfully, not much has changed to the look of Trani since 1994!

This photo of a late 1960’s/early 1970’s Renault 4 GTL on the street in front of old buildings looks like it was taken 50 years ago rather than just 2 months ago!

I spotted this Piaggio Ape (AH·peh) 3 wheeled vehicle at the port.  Piaggio also makes the Vespa motorino.  An Ape is basically a Vespa with 2 wheels at the back supporting a flatbed.  Piaggio started making the Ape in 1948 to fill the post-war need for inexpensive light commercial transport.  Ape means bee.  I thought it was named for the cute buzzing sound it makes while driving, but it could also be referring to the work ethic of this ‘worker bee’ hardworking vehicle.  Api make great delivery vehicles for narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways.

I hope you enjoyed your phototour of Trani’s ruote. Grazie mille to Franco for helping me identify them! Ciao, Cristina

Trani

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A crescent shaped port, fishermen selling their catch on the waterfront, a timeless, picturesque centro storico that looks like it could be a movie set, a castle, and a stunning limestone Romanesque cathedral right at the water’s edge where you expect to find a lighthouse.  These are some of the reasons why Trani is one of my favourite day trips.  It is a beautiful, peaceful, uncrowded fishing port on the Adriatic, between Barletta and Bari.  Trani is on the main ‘Adriatico’ railway line so it is easily accessible without a car.

Trani is ancient Tirenum, allegedly founded by Tirenus, son of Diomede.  Trani is famous for issuing the ‘Ordinamenta et consultudo Maris’ in 1063.  This is the oldest surviving maritime law code in the west. The street along the harbor is called ‘Via Statuti Marittimi’.  Trani is also known for Moscato di Trani, figs, almonds and olive oil.

During the rule of Federico Secondo (aka Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II) in the early 13th Century, Trani became an important political center and trading port with the Orient.  Since Trani was on the pilgrimage route to the Holy Land it grew and prospered.  Trani also had a close diplomatic and trading relationship with Venezia.When I got off the train in Trani, I walked about half an hour, straight to the cathedral.  I am a big fan of Romanico Pugliese (Pugliese Romanesque), an 11th-13th Century architectural style unique to Puglia.  Romanico Pugliese includes classic Romanesque features such as tall facades, campanili and rose windows, blended with Byzantine and Islamic architectural details.  In fact, since 2006, the Romanico Pugliese churches in Puglia are on the the UNESCO World Heritage Sites tentative list.  This is the step before becoming a World Heritage Site.The Trani cathedral was built in 1099 out of local tufo, a creamy coloured limestone that almost seems to glow in the sun.  One of the oldest and largest cathedrals in Puglia, it was used as a model for the ones built later. It was named for San Nicola Pellegrino (the Pilgrim), a 19 year old Greek shepherd who died while on pilgrimage in Trani in 1094.  His bones are in the crypt.  Note….this is not the same San Nicola who is buried in Bari and is the inspiration for Santa Claus.  Trani’s cathedral was constructed on layers of history.  It was built over the foundations of a 5th Century Byzantine church, Santa Maria della Scala, which was built over the Roman crypt of San Leucio.  Both of these ‘layers’ are accessible. The beautiful bronze doors are a copy.  The original doors are on display inside.  The 32 panels were sculpted by Barisano di Trani who also did work on the cathedrals in Ravenna and Monreale. The 60m high campanile built in 1239 has square corners and an octagonal spire.  The number of windows increase with each floor. The campanile was being renovated when I was there, so I have included a photo I took in 1994 without the scaffolding.

Trani 1994

Right on the harbour is the Chiesa di Ognissanti, built in the 12th Century by the Knights Templar in the courtyard of their hospital.  Trani was on the route to the Holy Land and the knights had a hospital here for those wounded in the crusades.  It is not open to the public.At the far end of the harbour, the Villa Comunale is a park with benches and a seaside walk.  The breakwater near the Cathedral is a nice place to sit and soak up the sun or go for a swim.

Federico II built the Castello Svevo in 1249.  It has square towers at each corner.  The sea water moat was filled in.  From the 1800’s-1974 the castello was used as a prison. Now it is open to visitors and hosts cultural events.  Admission is €3.

Trani once had southern Italia’s largest Giudecca community or Jewish neighborhood.  It was not a ghetto, as it was not closed off.  There were once 4 synagogues.  The Scolanova Synagogue spent centuries as a church, but in 2006 it was rededicated as a synagogue.

Trani is small enough that you can walk everywhere.  From the Stazione, walk straight out and turn left at Piazza della Repubblica.  There is an info point here.  It is about a half hour walk along quiet streets with beautiful palazzi to the cathedral and port.  Just ask a local for ‘Il Porto’ if you need directions.  Shops are closed from 1-5 pm.

For seafood lovers, the port has many excellent restaurants.  My cousins had given me 3 restaurant recommendations.  It was such a beautiful sunny day I just wanted to sit near the breakwater and enjoy the sea.  I had a mad craving for polipo-octopus.  I ended up getting a take away insalata di polipo and a glass of Falanghina.  It was perfect!

Trani is a great base to stay for exploring several UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Castel del Monte, Alberobello and Matera are all about 1 hour away.

Ciao e buon viaggio, Cristina