On a clear sunny day one November we set out with our friends, Paola and Jim, to explore Monopoli. Monopoli is about an hours drive (94km) from our Puglia holiday villas, north of us and south of Bari. Monopoli is a lovely seaside town, perfect for a day trip. The town has a small historic centre (centro storico), a recently restored castle and a lovely port. There are plenty of sandy beaches along the coastline surrounding Monopoli, making it perfect summer day out with a town visit in the morning followed by lunch and an afternoon on the beach. Or take a boat excursion to fish, swim and eat the fish you catch. After parking the car we set out on foot for Piazza XX Settembre where we had planned to meet up with a social networking acquaintance. The meeting didn’t happen but starting out at the Piazza, which has a great street market, put us in a good place to visit the Cathedral and explore the Centro Storico and Porto Vecchio. First stop, of course, was for coffee. This time caffe corretto. Translating literally as “correct coffee”, caffe corretto is a shot of espresso “corrected” with a shot of liquor, usually grappa, sometimes sambuca or brandy or whatever is to hand! Paola took the opportunity to get a restaurant recommendation for lunch from our host, making sure that he recommended somewhere that served typical, local fare. More about lunch later……. Suitably refreshed we set out across the Piazza and followed the signs for the Cathedral. As is typical with most Pugliese towns and cities the modern part of the town is unremarkable but once you enter the Centro Storico it’s like entering a new world. We had read in the lonely planet “Puglia and Basilicata” guide book that “Monopoli’s historic centre is sorely neglected and many of it’s prize sights ……… are in such a terrible state of repair that they’re falling down.” Now my copy of the guide is the first edition published Feb 2008, later editions may say something different, but we did not see any signs of disrepair ….. of course the buildings are old, but they are well maintained – one of the nicest historic centres that we have visited. The Cathedral is magnificent, inside and out. Built in 1693, on what had been a pagan plot, it is one of the largest cathedrals in the region. Renovated in the 1700’s it is a lavish explosion of the baroque and the interior boasts fantastic floor to ceiling marbles and notable artworks (see the photos in the Image Gallery below). From the Cathedral we wandered through the tiny, winding streets towards the Porto Vecchio, soaking up the ambience and sniffing at the wonderful cooking aromas from homes and restaurants alike. Because of course by now it was getting close to lunchtime! The recommendation from our morning coffee stop was for Osteria Perricci where they serve “Cucina Casalinga Tipica”. We were warmly welcomed and I can do no better than quote the description on Concierge.com which starts out by saying “A local institution, Osteria Perricci is one of those great Italian trattorias that leave you sated, smiling, and not much poorer.” Once seated the very friendly waitress reeled off the options for antipasti, primi and secondi, as is often the case there was no menu. We ordered antipasti di mare and antipasti di terra. The bruschetta (that’s brus’ketta with a hard k) that arrived first was fantastic. Bruschetta is simply a slice of grilled bread, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, usually covered with tomatoes although that can vary. It was the olive oil that made this bruschetta superb and we greedily mopped up the excess with the bread served separately. The antipasti was superb, a good combination of seafood, vegetables, cheese and meats. Something to suit everyone. For primi we had linguine with scampi and cavatelli with mussels and clams followed by fritto misto for Paola and Jim and grilled fish for Bob and me. Despite having three courses the food was so delicious we just had to make room for a dessert, panna cotta con caramel! The house white and house red that accompanied our meal was perfectly acceptable. Great food, warm and friendly service, atmosphere, the Osteria Perricci gets a definite thumbs up. After lunch we meandered our way back through the Centro Storico to Piazza XX Settembre to take a post-pranzo coffee at the Borgo Antico and give our thanks for the wonderful lunch recommendation. Would we go to Monopli again, a definite Yes. What did we miss – Palazzo Palmieri, Diocesan Museum, the castle and a side trip to Egnazia. So plenty to go back for.
A little of the history
Originally part of ancient Peucezia, Monopoli enjoyed important influence over the territory south of Bari following the destruction of Egnazia. Also worth a visit is the Abbey Castle of Santo Stefano three kilometers south east of Monopoli. Here the Vie Traiana and Minucia arrived at ancient Diria. Do take time to see the Museum of ‘Vases from Egnazia’. In antiquity, Monopoli was known as the City of Dens or ‘tana’ due to the many grottoes in the zone. Traces of prehistoric man can be found in the sea grottoes of Cala Camcia and Cala Corvino. The city’s coat of arms was donated by Frederick II of Svevia. It consists of three white roses in a red ‘field’. The former represent fidelity to the Emperor while the red symbolizes the blood spilled by the inhabitants in the defense of their city during the siege of 1207 by Gualtiero di Brienne. But Frederick and his troops were just one in along line of people who have passed by. These include the original Greek settlers, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Angioins, Spanish, Austrians and Bourbons. Perhaps the greatest date in the city’s history was 16 December 1117. It was during the night that an image of the Madonna della Madia floated into the port together with sturdy beams which were subsequently used by the then Vescovo Romualdo to repair the sorry roof of the Cathderal. Look inside for a painting of the event by Giovanni Bernardo Lama. Every year the miracle is re-enacted by the townsfolk to demonstrate their devotion.