The History Buff's Guide
3 of Puglia's Most Epic Historical Sites to Visit
Planning a trip to Puglia in southern Italy? Chances are you’ve got a pretty good idea why it’s such a must-see destination. A cursory Google search reveals that Puglia is a Mediterranean oasis, complete with jagged cliffs plunging vertically into clear cobalt waters, while medieval whitewashed towns sit precariously above. It’s postcard-worthy. It’s Instagram-worthy. And it’s bursting at the seams with awesome historical sites to discover. Here’s THE STELLA‘s guide to Puglia’s most epic historical sites.
Trulli Zone, Alberobello
The Apulian trulli are easily this region’s most distinctive feature. These limestone farmhouses were traditionally used for storing crops or as small shelters. Today, they dot the central Puglian landscape like ancient flying saucers (their conical roofs make us suspect Dr. Seuss was once a medieval Italian architect).
Some trulli date as far back as the Bronze Age, but most of them were built sometime during the 14th century. Because the structures were intended to be temporary, many of them have been rebuilt or restored over the centuries, using the same mortarless technique practiced since time immemorial.
You’ll find the highest density of trulli in the town of Alberobello. UNESCO has even declared its Trulli Zone a World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to appreciate why as you wander through the ancient winding roads, among over 1000 trulli. Many of them are now used as tourist shops and cafes, but even if you simply choose to roam aimlessly, it’s a definite must-see.
Castel Del Monte, Andria
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Castel del Monte (or Castle of the Mountain) is a 13th century castle constructed by Emperor Frederick II. It’s said that it’s unusual octagonal shape may represent the synthesis between Heaven (circle) and Earth (square). The architecture is a blend of classic, Gothic, and Islamic influences.
For a nominal admission fee, you can explore this unique medieval structure. Be sure to set aside at least an hour to enjoy it, taking note of the stoic watchtowers, 25m high walls, and delicate contrast between the coral, limestone, and marble elements.
Whether or not the structure was erected as a defensive fortress is still up for debate. There is no moat or drawbridge to fend off potential invaders; however, it’s speculated that there was once a defensive wall with bastions surrounding the castle. Another fun fact — Castel Del Monte is featured on Italy’s version of the one cent euro coin. Can you recognize it?
Castello Aragonese, Taranto
At the north end of Italy’s Gulf of Naples is a rocky volcanic islet, atop which sits an imposing and expansive castle complex. The Castello Aragonese was originally built in 474 BC by Hiero I of Syracuse, and subsequently conquered by various groups, including the Parthenopeans (Naples’ native inhabitants), and the Romans. Throughout the middle ages, it was variously used as a convent, abbey, and church. In 1809, during the Napoleonic Wars, a brigade of English infantry shelled it to near-obliteration. In 1912, it was purchased by a private owner and work began to carefully restore it.
Today, Castello Aragonese is open to visitors for a small admission fee. Start by crossing the Adriatic over a stone footbridge before climbing up to the castle through a medieval tunnel. Here, you can explore this extraordinary complex at your leisure. Your money is directly used to help maintain and restore this national landmark.
If you find yourself here at the end of June, be sure to check out the Ischia Film Festival. Beginning in 2003, all through the first week of July, the Ischia Film Festival is held inside of the castle. It’s an amazing experience for both cinephiles and history buffs, who can enjoy awesome movies in an awesome venue.
Puglia really is a history buff’s dream. The endless ruins, epic castles, and ornate churches will grab your attention at every turn. So, while Alberobello’s Trulli Zone, Castel del Monte, and Castello Aragonese are all must-sees, they are by no means a fully comprehensive list. Explore the region and discover your own personal favourites along the way. If you haven’t yet booked your trip to southern Italy and want an incredible place to stay, check out THE STELLA’s curated collection of Italian vacation rentals, and book yours today!