Diomedes, Italy travel tips, Puglia, Romanico Pugliese, San Nicola Pellegrino, Southern Italy, Trani, UNESCO World Heritage Sites
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.
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