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THE SOUL TOUR

Apulia is indeed a land with a double face, one is the opposite of the other. The first one is in light, in surface, it represents the “above” Apulia, it could be visited by everyone, it is the Apulia of the sea, of the trullis, of the dazzling light that reflects on the candid walls bleached of mortar of the Itria Valley, it is the Apulia of the cathedrals and castles, of the Patron Saints’ fests, of the gastronomy. The other face is the “dark” one, it is hidden and it needs to be discovered by the careful eye of the traveller but when you find it gives you deep emotions. Hidden Apulia is the world “of faith and religiosity “ that of the caves devoted to Saints, of the rocky churches, of the ancient crypts, of the underground churches. A kind of Apulia that develops under frantic towns, under frequented plazas, under funny beaches... this one always remains immovable and silent, waiting for being discovered and valorized. The most careful traveler wants to discover double Apulia, not only that of the beaches and of the sea, but also and above all the side in the shade.
It can be found for example, in the fantastic underground churches: the rocky churches cover a vast area of Apulia, such as those of Gravina or Massafra, but also those little churches “chiesette” painted in the rock found in private “masserie”, in villas or grounds of owners often unaware of being guard of authentic masterpieces of art and history. The zone of Monopoli is very rich of these realities, in which unfortunately the private owners have neither money nor enough helps for restoring these medieval “chiesette” that risk therefore to be abandoned and forgot.

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Different the destiny of some caves turned into places of cult and therefore protected and helped by the Church, such as the case of the Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo whose spirituality is also perceptible from the most convinced of the atheists: the cave is witness of a fascinating relationship between faith and history, legends and real pilgrimages, stories of Saints and emperors that came from far away to pray in this remote edge of the Gargano.
San Giovanni Rotondo is famous all around the world as the city where Padre Pio from Pietrelcina lived and operated, revered monk of the miracles become Saint in 2002. It was really Padre Pio the founder of the Sanctuary which is adjacent the ancient church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, near which a second Sanctuary was built and inaugurated on July 1st, 2004, planned by the well known architect Renzo Piano. Built in 1540, the convent of the Cappuccini is the place in which the Saint lived since 1916 up to September 23 rd 1968, day of his death. It was here that Padre Pio received the stigmata in 1918, and here occurred those supernatural events that brought to the beatifi cation and the following canonization of the monk. To visit this convent and to lean out from the cells where Padre Pio conducted his existence means to make a jump in places full of spirituality and mysticism: a destination recommended for devotes and tourists. Close to the convent rises the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie consecrated in 1629. The crypt of the Church held the rests of Padre Pio up to few years ago, today moved into the crypt of the new adjacent complex.
The new Sanctuary projected by Renzo Piano occupies, with its enormous shell structure, around 6000 square meters and represents the second church of Italy for extension, after the Cathedral in Milan. It is known also as “the church of Padre Pio”, the New Sanctuary has almost entirely been financed by the offers of the pilgrms. It can welcome over 6500 visitors. Another example of these Sacred places are the several caves devoted to the Saints.
One of these is the crypt of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Cassano Murge, province of Bari, it is situated under the convent dominating the valley and the forest from the top of the hill. Set in a zone of the Murgia rich in caves of various origin, the cave of Santa Maria degli Angeli was inhabited from the hermits since the year 1000 but it was already known in ancient epochs, in facts there were found some bones of prehistoric animals dragged in the cave by the rain waters. The trip in “underground Apulia” could continue bringing us to the Daunia Appennines between graves and millennial “sepolcreti” (burials). The charm of the subsoil of our region resides in its exceptional variety that offers you inspiration for new itineraries, new discoveries, new escapes from the crowded tourism of surface. In the history of Apulia and its territory have assumed an important role the Streets of faith, along which for centuries pilgrimages of religious nature are developed, partly directed to reach the principal places of cult of our territory, partly only in order to cross it to reach Jerusalem as final destination. These walks still represent an important reference, both for the cultural history of Apulia and the characteristics of its landscape, and from a touristic point of view, also in consideration of the great relief that are assuming both the local and the spiritual tourism. The territory of Apulia is characterized, among the others, from the walk of the Via Francigena, an “ideal way” that totally crosses the region up to Brindisi, the main embarkation point to Jerusalem. The places of the faith in Apulia are cathedrals, basilicas and sanctuaries testifying of a historical artistic spiritual run that has strongly influenced the region during the centuries, to the discovery of the religious feeling, through itineraries in the Apulian territory, in prodigious places, surrounded by enchanting landscapes, art and culture. In this page found the list of some sanctuaries and cathedrals of Apulia a guide that is born from the desire to accompany the tourist to the rediscovery of the ancient popular religiousness on the traces of the great Saints. The streets of God indeed are endless, mysterious, tortuous and together calming, they are both human and divine, they allow the man to rejoin with someone or something greater and eternal. In a land like Apulia these are endless: this was land of conquest contended by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Swabians and Normans. A land that is since ever a kind of “umbilical cord” abandoned between West and East, a ring of conjunction among cultures, traditions and different cults but destined, always, to mix together in the fertile bell of Apulia. In the province of Bari, in the so-called “Costa dei Trulli” faith crosses roads that are unrolled in particular ways, the devotion is well visible in the religious architecture, in the dark and natural rocks that become hidden churches (“chiese rupestri”) and in the white stone of the great Romanesque constructions that seem to sparkle under the sun with their simple grandeur. Crossing these “paths of Faith” means to discover a world of Saints, martyrs, miracle workers, Saints who came from the sea, a universe made of human simple gestures of individuals that pray, of a collectivity that gathers around those Saints in a pure embrace or in a procession, the rites of the popular love. To look for the traces of that long and complex walk, we must refer to those different directions: the surface and the belly of the earth. Passing from the imposing Romanesque Cathedrals, that rise white, enormous, sober almost flooded by the light, churches that in their regular and monolithic architecture become the symbols of a solid and unshakable faith. To the rocky churches, splendid, suggestive and often sunk among the rocks, hidden, set in the bowel of the territory, places of an ancient cult for the Byzantine spirituality of the distant Constantinople.
To know this edge of Apulia crossing the places of the spirit means to know a place pervaded of spirituality, that recognizes the faith as a divine gift. The walk in the spirituality is a full adventure of humanity, the human need of being all children of something greater. Surely the walk starts from the triumph of the Romanesque basilicas such as the Cathedral of St. Sabino and the Basilica of the St. Nicola, both in Bari. This latter is destination of pilgrimage for the orthodox believers of the whole world, it is the symbol of the religious syncretism of our land. The economical A particular political relationship between Bari and Bisanzio was translated in the visible ruins of a Byzantine church near Palazzo Simi and in the church of St. Gregorio Armeno. Leaving the chief town and directing us toward the hinterland we fi nd near Bitonto an example of a pure Romanesque style in the marvelous white giant that is the Cathedral devoted to St. Valentine. Another church of notable value is the Cathedral of Assunta in Ruvo di Puglia.
Leaving the spectacular scenery of the great Churches, let’s start the trip through a more intimate spirituality, a trip at the source of the faith, more ancient but equally rich in symbols and feelings.
It deals with churches carved in the rock, in that calcareous stone typical of Apulia: the Church of Santa Candida in Picone (Bari), that is the greatest rocky Basilica of the region with its 120 square meter; then the church of Santi Andrea and Procopio in “l’Assunta” in Monopoli, a place of unbelievable charm, in the same town we the church of the Spirito Santo and that of Santa Maria Amalfi tana with its fabulous crypt. Don’t miss the Byzantine frescos present in the crypt devoted to St. Vito Vecchio in Gravina.
They could be admired in all their splendor at the Museum Pomarici.
They represent Christ with the typical semblances of Greeks iconography. The itinerary in the places of the faith is not only a trip among churches, but could be also a calm tour, quite an invasion into the life and in the rites of men and women of faith.
Once upon ago in the convents and in the monasteries were perpetuated the traditions of the Apulian cuisine. We are referring to some tasteful preserves of vegetables prepared and drowned in the local golden treasure: the extra virgin olive oil, that not only confers an unmistakable taste but above all preserves the freshness of the products.
Eggplants, artichokes, raspberries, dried tomatoes, are small prodigies in glass. Furthermore the real masterpiece of the traditional Apulian preserves has only one color: tomato red. Kilos and kilos of tomatoes every summer are transformed into sauce to be consumed during the whole year. Small simple jewels of the past tradition that have today become ambassadorial of the Apulian taste in the world.