A Taste of Trani

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    Sep 04, 2012
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One of the most striking things about this Puglian city that is situated 42 kilometres north of Bari on Italy’s eastern coast, is the ancient port that was founded strategically along old communication routes. Once considered one of the most important ports in the region, it is impossible not to be impressed with the scenery. Up to 600 boats bob up and down in the water at any one time and there is a row of restaurants that offer typical Pugliese dishes such as Orichette with cime di rapa and polpette di pane al sugo – pasta with broccoli, and meatballs in a tomato salsa respectively. In addition, there are several bars, churches and in the distance, the spectacular cathedral. The port is also where, during the warm summer evenings, groups of friends meet up, sit on the ancient wall aligning the harbour or on one of the wooden benches, to talk about their day as the street lights illuminate the night sky.

Close to the port and in a favoured position overlooking the shores of the Adriatic is the 11th century Romanesque cathedral that is dedicated to the town’s patron saint, San Nicola Pellegrino, the young pilgrim who died in 1094. Saint Nicholas arrived in Trani as a sign from God to “enrich the town”. Where the cathedral now dominates was once the Episcopal Church of Santa Maria where Saint Nicholas fell ill. Open to the public, the inside of the cathedral is equally as fascinating and inspiring. Intricate architecture and decorations honouring a number of saints are plentiful. The Crypt of San Nicola that was started in the early 12th century and finished in 1142 is a spacious and well-lit room consisting of 28 columns of Greek marble. The cathedral is also used as the back-drop of several scenes in the new film by Colombian director Andres Arce Meldonado. Billed as the Italian Oceans 11, it stars actors such as Don Johnson and Gerard Depardieu, as well as popular Italian actors Barbara Bouchet and Giancarlo Giannini who played Mathis in Casino Royale. 

To the left of the cathedral is the equally impressive Castello Svevo. Built by Federick II in 1233, the castle is situated in Piazza Manfredi, the square named after Manfred, Federick’s illegitimate son. Its four imposing towers are set at each corner with the smaller towers facing towards the sea. Once used for military purposes, the castle has also been used for a variety of public functions such as the wedding of Manfred and Elena d’Epiro in 1259. During the 16th century the castle was used as a top security prison and a couple of centuries later, in 1799 it was used for less joyous reasons, being the place where noble Tranese who were considered too idealistic were killed and their bodies were then thrown into the sea. Today the castle has a distinctive stone bridge that leads to its main entrance and provides an insight into days gone by. The central courtyard has displays describing its varied history. Surrounded by a deep moat that was once directly linked to the sea, the castle houses a museum where it is possible to see the remains of Frederick II’s marble decorations, along with other artefacts that were recovered during careful restoration work.

Trani is divided into two parts, the main square Piazza della Repubblica with its roads that lead to each part of the town’s outer quarters, and the alluring centro storico that is often referred to by French visitors as a “Little Paris.” The ancient cobbled streets from via La Giudea to via Porta Antica twist and turn through stone arches adorned with dedications to the Madonna, and the rows of historical stone built houses, some of which date back to the 18th century. In the middle of the centro storico, time feels as though it’s standing still. The sheer narrowness of the streets and echo of footsteps on the cobbles beneath your feet add to the feeling of having been transported back to an earlier century. Perhaps this is why the centro storico is regularly used as the location of wedding photographs when the bride and groom pose in front of ancient doorways. It is among the streets in the historical centre where many small and characteristic churches can be found such as the Chiesa di San Donato that’s situated close to the tower clock dating from 1473 which has the town’s coat of arms emblazoned upon it. Then there is one of many Jewish churches, the church of Santa Maria Novo, built in 1244 that proudly boasts as being the oldest synagogue in Europe, and the 10th century church in via San Martino that is incredibly small yet atmospheric, the floor of which is two metres below street level. At night, the centro storico becomes bewitching with an almost ethereal feel except for the occasional voice that can be heard coming from one of the old yet sturdy apartments that were constructed using marmo di Trani, the well-known local limestone.

Heading towards the opposite side of the port is where the public gardens that date from the 19th century are situated. Offering paths lined with flowers and rows of pine trees, as well as an aquarium and fountain that are enjoyed by a group of tortoises, the ville communale overlooks the ocean below and provides a particularly striking panorama – to its right is the monastery of Colonna, and to the left, the cathedral.  Regularly attracting crowds of families, particularly on sunny Sunday mornings, the ville, that in itself has plenty of history, provides an area of tranquillity for a quiet and relaxing read or a pleasant stroll. It is here where the Monumento ai Caduti rests, a monument erected in 1923 in honour of those that fought during World War I. Sitting proudly on either side of the monument are two replica canons from World War II, one of which weighs a staggering 2000 kg. However, it’s the medieval style arc, known as the Fortino di Sant’Antonio, located to the left of the entrance to the gardens that really catches the eye. Built in 1400 the arc is said to have once been the location of a raised bridge and today houses a small and long-abandoned ancient church. It leads to a platform that presents another splendid view of Trani’s port and cathedral from a very different and fine angle.

Slightly out of the town centre on the coast road in the direction towards Bisceglie, is part of the town known as Colonna, home to the church of Santa Maria della Colonna and alongside it is the monastery, both of which were founded in 1098 and once belonged to the Franciscans. The outside of the abbey has decorative elements typical of Roman architecture with rows of large arcs as well as a charming rose window that is arguably the central focus of the monastery. In the church itself, the Crocifisso di Colonna, the Colonna Cross is conserved. The cross is associated with an intriguing story. In 1480, the cross that is adorned with an effigy of Jesus was stolen by a group of Turks. As they made their way with the cross by boat, they suddenly came to a standstill. One of the group, fearing the cross was blocking their way, attacked it with a sword causing the nose of the effigy to Jesus to bleed. The cross was hurled into the sea and was later found halfway between Trani’s port and the monastery. Every year at the beginning of May there is a dedication to this important day that is celebrated with a grand procession through the town’s streets. Today the monastery is used mainly for cultural events and concerts whereas the church hosts a number of events including weddings. In fact last year the church was the venue of the wedding between a popular Italian comic and his Tranese bride.

The weekly Tuesday market that is situated slightly out of the town centre is always bustling with locals and is certainly worth a stroll, if only to hear the local dialect Tranese. However, it’s the summer months in particular that really depict Trani in a mesmerising light, mainly due to the series of summer concerts and 3-day festival in honour of Saint Nicholas at the end of July. This unique Pugliese town has an innocent yet fascinating appeal and is situated in an unspoilt part of Italy that does not disappoint.

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Tamzin Hardy enjoys writing articles for InterestingArticles.com. View the Tamzin Hardy Author Profile

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