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THE PEARLS OF ITRIA VALLEY

In the heart of Apulia not far away from the Itria Valley, there’s a beautiful landscape studded with amazing fortified farms. It is the famous territory of the hundred fortified Farms of Crispiano. In a suggestive path surrounded by Mediterranean hills and plains covered by stately centennial olive trees, it is possible to find on the way these farms dating back to the XV and the XIX century. Their architectural styles can vary from small rural houses to big imposing farms with closed courts and defensive walls. Every mansion is a jewel box that hides treasures, surrounded by dry-stone walls, among patron buildings and frescoed churches, lookout towers and farm stalls in the “trulli”, sheepfolds and hypogeum oil mills, farmyards and courts for celebration, stone apiaries and pigeon lofts or deep tanks dug in the rocks. In order to bring out this territory the consortium called “The Hundred Fortifi ed Farms” of Crispiano was created with the aim to promote the immense landscape and the cultural and gastronomic heritage of this marvelous land. Among the farms you can visit we mention the Masseria Quis Ut Deus, Masseria Monti del Duca, Masseria Russoli, Masseria Pilano, Masseria Mita, Masseria Amastuola. For those who are programming a vacation in the Valle D’Itria, it is quite a duty to think about Alberobello as an accommodation or a place to visit.

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Alberobello is a little town situated in the middle of the Itria Valley, in the Land of Trulli, become famous for its typical houses made of “chiancarelle”, that is calcareous white and grey stones forming a conic roof upon the round shaped base.
Alberobello was in the past called Silva Alborelli and its typical “trulli” are since 1996 protected by UNESCO. Alberobello was born thanks to a group of land owners and families of peasants, who reclaimed the lands in order to cultivate them. The Earls of Conversano, owners of this territory, imposed to build without using mortar, so farmers and masons chose to build houses by using calcareous stones by putting them one on the other in circular shape and fi nishing them with a conic self-supporting roof. Initially the buildings were used as barns, which served to preserve their tools and the harvest. Later they became houses.
The roofs of Trulli are embellished with decorative pinnacles and symbols painted on the conic roof. They are inspired by symbolic, religious and mystic elements.
Some symbols represent the artisan who built that house, some represent the family owner of that house. Pinnacles and symbols are often a kind of civic identity number. Each Trullo, little or big, is a kind of jewel, each of them could tell us a piece of history, for this reason it’s important to stop in Alberobello and visit the town, in particular the Trullo Sovrano, or Casa Pezzolla, or the Church of Sant’Antonio an authentic monument built by farmers. Carovigno is a little village surrounded by a sweet and fertile countryside. The pretty village is dominated by its castle, residence of Prince Alfredo Dentice di Frasso and his Austrian wife countess Elizabeth Sclieppenbach. Crossing the entrance arch, the castle stand in its perfection with connections between the original structure and the restoration of the 20th century. What stands out the most is its balcony made of the typical Carovigno stone. All here represent an edge of the earls’ life: the hundred rooms, the friezes that recall the sea, the navigation art, the towers. The first core area was built by the Normans, who constructed a squared tower (1100 B.C.). In the 15th century it was added a second round tower by the Duke Orsini and a century later the castle was enriched with the beautiful almond shaped tower, an authentic architectonic masterpiece unique in its kind. The tower shows its corner towards the sea as a challenge and defense against assaults.
The castle keeps on overlooking the town mightily from the top of the hill. To those who want to discover Locorotondo, located in the heart of Valley of Itria, we would suggest to play a game of glances because Locorotondo has to be seen as the ancient poets and philosophers did, that is looking up towards the sky, by keeping your nose up. This perspective low-high is clear to be seen coming from the sea: towards the end of the panoramic road, bordered by the typical dry-stone walls and immersed in a luxuriant green dotted by the first white of “trulli”, Locorotondo appears to be laid down on top of a hill, as a perfectly round shaped conglomeration of houses. Its first name was Casale San Giorgio, but the agricultural village was already mentioned in some medieval documents with its latin name “Locus rotundus” which means round place, because of the particular shape of the town planning. What particularly catches the eyes is the white of the house walls of the historical part of the town. Looking from the bottom of the street towards the sky, you will find a surprisingly characteristic: here everything is light and bright and many houses have their roofs in the shape of perfect triangles, very similar to those of the northern villages. They are not made of wood, but are of the same material of the dry-stone walls and of the “trulli”, “chiancarelle” that is calcareous stone, an invention of the population of the Itria Valley. Walking through the streets of this quiet little town it is possible to discover how every building in the simplicity and clearness of its lines, has an embellishment which makes it unique: a frieze, a volute, a Baroque curl, spirals, groups of bas-relieves. This is the reason why Locorotondo deserved to be part of the list of “Borghi più belli d’Italia”. Leaving the Itria Valley, we move towards the sea, in particular we stop a little in Polignano a Mare. Into the narrow alleys of Polignano, prickly is the perfume of the wild bushes, climbing up the rocks suspended in the air, to be pleased by the anthropic scenery born from the meeting between man and nature.
Here, in the little town captured by the sea, if destiny has decided your birth and your forced departure, here your roots remain. And you bring that sea in the deep of your heart, you make it part of yourself and you celebrate it forever. It’s marvelous, as in a song by Domenico Modugno. It was liked best by Pino Pascali, among the best known protagonists of the “Poor Art”. Today the brightness of that sea refl ects in the luminous creations by Peppino Campanella, who has his atelier hanging over the sea. Let’s leap into the blue of this sea jumping from Bastione Santo Stefano, the most enchanting rock ram that this town has offered to several champions of diving, the most famous in the world. Here Nature has created a breathtaking scenery in the deep of the sea too. Beneath the houses of Polignano, in the semi-sunken caves  you can admire the greens, the blues, all chromatics of the sea, very evocative with the wild charm of those places reminding old legends. Grotta della rondinella, with its double access, Grotta Palazzese, the most preferred by artists and scholars, Grotta Ardito, with its spectacular hypogeal morphologies, Grotta delle Monache, where the nuns could enjoy the sea view without being seen by indiscreet eyes.
But the spectacle of Nature continues in the deep abyss: Grotta Chiar di Luna, Grotta dei Fidanzati, Grotta della Foca are eccentric names introducing us an unknown world. From the rocks of the caves that slowly decline, the inhabitants of the sea appear: the nudibranchs, red prawns, sea anemones, ceriantus, little hippocampus, red starfi shes. And other strange inhabitants are particularly active at night: octopus, cuttlefi shes, squids.
From the land it’s very difficult to reach the sea, but the offered view is fantastic, the deep sea of Polignano, as well as a sunken Disneyland, offers rugged landscapes to those Captains Nemo that in this fabulous sea are searching for silent emotions. Always staying by the sea, it is quite a duty to visit the chief town of Apulia, Bari. And when we think to Bari, it is easy to think to the Teatro Petruzzelli. The sky had not cleared up yet, when a shrill and sinister whistle tore the silent city. Tongues of fl ames rose high and quickly devoured the theatre belly. It was a Sunday of October 1991. After this tragic event, it seems that Teatro Petruzzelli was handed over to myth in its most tragic day. It was a terrible shock for those living in Bari and for the many appraisers of theatre. It was indeed a special place, it represented their pride, an icon place. When the palace burnt, the identity of the city seemed to collapse with it. But fortunately, myth is immortal and despite its being burnt, destroyed and ripped open, it didn’t completely disappear and was destined to live again. The members of the orchestra managed to play in other structures, the seasonal program continued during the years in order to still have a contact with art and keep in mind that a soon reconstruction was needed. After a long and difficult reconstruction the theatre has turned its lights on and rose its curtains once again. The main goals to achieve during the restoration of Petruzzelli Theatre were to bring back it to its original beauty and provide it with the most modern and congenial security systems and technologies. The new structure is half of the original one and comfortably and surely houses 1600 people, 400 in the stalls, the famous hall in the shape of a horseshoe. The stage is wider and reaches 105 square meters. The dome has been reconstructed with a wooden earth quake proof structure. Unfortunately the original frescos by Raffaele Armenise were destroyed by fire, but initially it was possible to admire them again by a virtual projection on the top of the theatre. The reconstruction took a lot of time and money, but the result is completely satisfying. Petruzzelli maintains its cultural and social role as the fulcrum of the society where culture and art represent the essential propulsions of a healthy and fruitful growth. Another monument to visit in Bari is the Basilica of San Nicola: a bridge between East and West. The name of Nicholas in Greek means “winner of the people”, which already highlights the particular relationship of love with the poor. He was born in Turkey 260 years After Christ, but was elected bishop of Myra: he is remembered for his numerous miracles and above all he preserved the town of Myra from a wheat famine. The relics of Saint Nicholas arrived to Bari on May 9th 1087, carried away by 62 seamen who really stole them from the town of the Saint. The reasons of this transfer were commercial and political, because in that period Bari was enabled by the Byzantine Government to be a central and strategic city of the Mediterranean Sea. The Basilica has a sober architecture and noble harmony of shapes. The façade immediately rouses strong emotions with its big parvis, vertical prospect, its windows, the Oculus. Inside the Basilica is arranged into three naves. There are works of art everywhere: you must keep your eyes long up to admire the stunning ceiling painted by Carlo Rosa, the two big Matronei , the frescos, the ciborium, the altar.
The relics of the Saint are protected in the crypt, an underground church built in only two years. The imposing building, characterized by its typical domes in the shape of big onions and its roof covered by green baked clay tiles, was built with a project created by the architect Alexej Shchusev and by the Imperial Orthodox Society in Moscow, with the approbation and economic support of the last Czar Nicholas II who chose the city of Bari as the place where to build a church to welcome pilgrims coming in the Apulian chief-town to venerate the relics of the Saint from Myra. The official inauguration took place on May 22nd 1913. After the Second World War the monument became property of the municipality of Bari. In 1988 was completely renovated and brought back to its original beauty in order to be once again that symbolic bridge between the people living on the Western part of the Mediterranean Sea and the East Europe.
On March 14th 2007, during the Italian-Russian Summit that took place in Bari, the city happily granted the request of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to give back the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate the Russian Church dedicated to Saint Nicholas. An event that seals that ancient but still strong connection unifying the two communities. It is indeed this common worship of the Saint coming from Myra that once again makes of Bari a central city, with its central role of being a door towards East Europe. A few kilometers from Bari, a fantastic treasure is hidden in the streets of Castellana Grotte. It was the year 1938 when the Italian speleologist Franco Anelli penetrated the heart of the Grave,he got through it and discovered the entire Karst complex of Castellana, bringing back “to light” a natural masterpiece: sculptures, spires and pinnacles that remind of the typical and monumental gothic cathedrals. The Caves are the distinctive mark of the Community of Castellana, this is also why, a few years after the discovery, a governmental decree added to the ancient name of the town the toponym “Grotte”. Only 76 years since that day, it seems so long ago but it is just the twinkling of an eye compared to the millions of years that mother nature took to create such a perfection. Water, leaving small traces of mineral, forms drop after drop stalactites and stalagmites through a very slow process that can even last thousands of years. A visit of Castellana’s Caves cannot be considered a regular journey. To live this journey at best we should wear Orfero’s shoes, be ready to move away from human nature and join the mystery of nature walking into its womb. A womb that can be entered walking down the so called “Grave”, which is the fi rst and only cave communicating with the external world. Later on we will find the Cyclopes, a group of stalagmites reminding us of these epic giants because of their stateliness. Here we could see the last slice of sky and sun filtering through the rocks, the last contact with the real world. Following the main path, the bed of the underground river that millions of years ago passed through the Caves. The visit quickly turns into an experience made of places with mythological names: Pillars of Hercules, guiding us towards the Black Cave, then the Big Cave of Monuments: camels, owls, Madonnas and even the Moses of Michelangelo, all built by water and limestone. The journey will present us a lot of magic formations, whose names don’t give us the sense of beauty they possess.
The walk into the bell of the Earth takes us to the very last discovery made, the most sublime: the White Cave, a monument of alabaster, a real jewel which will leave you breathless. When the visit comes to its end there’s the feeling you have walked into another dimension, into another world, while you are still in Apulia.