As you go along the external Bari high road, making your way into the promenade St Nicola, on your right the three fountains unravelling from the sea say hello to you. The wind and the seagulls seem to suggest summer has already come. Then you remember it is still April.
The city in this period is already enjoyable; a paradise with never ending sun.
What can Bari really offer to a tourist? Omitting the blue Mediterranean sea that accompanies the city life, there are centuries of history that every year are revealed to the tourists.
The city has been an important Norman military base. The Normans built several military and civil monuments and castles here. The most important is the Norman-Svevo castle, a fortress built in the 1131 by Ruggero the Norman, still also used as a museum. Several exhibitions are held in it. Historical and modern art mixing in a unique location to give visitors an ancestral show.
After making my way from Piazza Mercantile, between the hundreds of people that are here every afternoon, you can climb ‘the wall’, a tight path that leads to another important Norman military construction, the St Antonius small fort, probably built in the XVI century.
The real Bari is still hidden in the small streets that compose the old part of the city. As I move on the rocks making up the pavement of the street, the first thought is to be in another city, with a total charm. Citizens here pass the most of their day sat on chairs in the street. Talking, leaving the cloth drying, preparing the orecchiette -the most famous Bari’s homemade pasta- are the favourite activities of the eldest, who carry the knowledge of the city. Is not unusual that they start to tell you the oldest stories about what happened to their life in the WWII or the secrets behind the vernacular.
Climbing up the streets, I finally arrive to the real jewel of the city, the St. Nicolas Basilica. As you enter into this barrel-vaulted Roman style church you feel a sense of majesty, while on the other side you can hear the Mass chorus song echoing in your head. It is the base of two religions: the Catholic and the Orthodox, that shares the St. Nicolas worship. This makes Bari have a particular connection with Russia: every year hundreds of Russian pilgrims come to the city to see the St Nicolas’ bones in the Basilica.
The two masses are held in the same place. The Catholic sermons are given on the altar placed on the upper part, while the Orthodox masses are usually held in the small crypt, patrolled by the human tall statue behind the tomb. The iron squares of the door pattern makes it resemble a prison at first glance.
The Cathedral is also dedicated to the Saint, built in the XI century, where several religions celebrations are held, like the annual animal baptism: every pet owner can give to their beloved animal a human sacrament.
That’s another face of Bari, his multi-layered figure is probably what makes it, in my opinion, one of the most interesting Apulian cities.
After the tradition, there is its commercial side. In history, it has been an important harbour, centre of the Mediterranean commercial exchanges with Africa. Now this role is displayed in the annual fair called “The Levante Fair”, that brings to the city hundreds of tourists, eager to see the latest news in boats, home applications, furnitures, foods and everything that can be sold. Particularly renowned for the boating, is the second most relevant event boat fair, after the Nautical Saloon in Genova.
This city can still tell the visitors hundreds of stories, because Bari is like a bigger multinational city, but in a smaller dimension. In the night as I walk toward Corso Vittorio Emanuele, on your side you can see the young women, dressed with the latest fashion styles. You easily wonder if it is not Milan during the fashion week. I call it ‘the big screen’, anyone here wants to blend out, and the clothes are the best way of showing how much the young citizens are different from the others.
In the end, my eyes, better than my words, can explain how much this city can give to the visitor. This is because this city can’t be explained, it should be lived. It’s the Bari’s way of life.