Polignano a Mare sits atop limestone cliffs on the Adriatic coast just south of Bari. From the white-washed Centro Storico with narrow, winding cobblestone streets, the crystal clear water, and 3 terrazze with views of the sea, everywhere you look, there are panorami mozzafiato (pah·noh·RAH·mee moz∙zah∙FYAH∙toh)-breathtaking views. There is even a restaurant in a grotta, one of the caves overlooking the sea, the Grotta Palazzese. Polignano was the ancient Greek city of Neapolis, founded in the 4th Century BC. It was prosperous under the Romans too, because Ponte Lama Monachile, the Roman bridge, is right on the ancient Via Traiana. This was an extension of Via Appia, going from Beneventum (Benevento) to Brundisium (Brindisi) by a shorter route. There was a monastery nearby and the name of the bridge literally means ‘monastic monk’. Sounds a bit redundant, although better than the other possibility ‘monastic blade’.
Beneath the bridge is Spiaggia Lama Monachile, a small ‘spiaggia libera’ or public beach, with blue-green crystalline water and small white pebbles called ciottoli (cheeot·TOH· lee). I climbed up on some rocks and could have just sat there all day feeling the wind in my hair and sun on my face. Near the water, I noticed a constant movement of people coming and going from a cave. I was curious and walked over to try and see what was there. It just looked dark. A very nice older local gentleman saw me trying to peer in. He came over and offered me his arm and said he would accompany me. It was a ‘cave tunnel’ that had about 1 foot of water. The other end was very windy and opened to the next cove. We could see cliffs and the surf crashing onto the rocks, sending water over us. It was incredibly beautiful, but of course I did not have my camera. My escort told me that he lives in Polignano and comes to the spiaggia every day of the year!
When I took a dip in the water, the waves were so big I was thrown into a seated position and lost one of my flip flops, known in Italia as infraditi (in·fra·DEE·tee). The spiaggia is too rocky to walk barefoot. I retrieved my infradito and was immediately felled by another powerful wave, taking the other infradito off my foot. This went on for a few more waves, and eventually my infradito was too far out. Luckily a nice ragazzo retrieved it for me. I returned to my heavenly place on the rocks, to find that my cugina had taken my camera and photographed of every stage of my ordeal with the infraditi! Grazie Maria!
The town is a steep walk up the stairs beside Ponte Lama Monachile. The Centro Storico is entered via l’ Arco Marchesale, an old Roman gate. There is an interesting area called Vicolo della Poesia, with poetry written on staircases, walls and doorways. This ‘graffiti’ is signed ‘Guido Il Flâneur’. Guido is a poet, although the ‘graffiti’ is not his own poetry. He left his job in Bari and moved to Polignano to pursue a writing career 32 years ago. ‘Flâneur’ is an 18th Century term for french gentlemen who strolled the streets sharing their passion for literature. Apparently Guido goes for a swim every day, year round! Hmmm, this sounds familiar. I found a poor-quality foto of Guido online, and I think he may be the gentiluomo who escorted me through the cave tunnel!
Polignano a Mare’s most famous citizen is Domenico Modugno, who shot to fame in 1958 when his song ‘Nel blu dipinto di blu’ (you probably know it as Volare) won the Festival di San Remo, then represented Italia in the Eurovision song contest. In a piazza on the other side of the bridge is a statue of Modugno, with his arms stretched out like he is ready to take flight over Polignano. Our parking ran out before we could walk to the other side, so I’ll have to go back to visit Domenico.
I really enjoyed the day in Polignano a Mare, and so did my camera! It was not as crowded as I expected on a weekday in early August and the spiaggia was just perfect. The only thing I found kind of annoying was the amount of English signage in the Centro Storico, which is not typical for a town in Puglia.
Polignano a Mare is easy to get to, as it is on Strada Statale 16 (SS 16) the main coastal road. It is also very easy to get to without a car, since it is on the Adriatic train route from Bari to Lecce. From Bari, Polignano is a 20 min train ride and from the train station the Centro Storico is a 10 min walk.
Buon Viaggio, Cristina