50 km from Bari airport
70 km from Brindisi airport
Italian Railways down to Bari
Southeastern Railways from Bari down to Castellana Grotte
From Naples: A16 exit at Bari Nord - take SS 16 and exit at Conversano-Cozze, follow the SS 634.
From Pescara: A14 exit at Bari Nord - take SS 16 and exit at Conversano-Cozze, follow the SS 634.
From Taranto: A14 exit at Gioia del Colle-Putignano, follow the SS 377.
Castellana is a lovely town of the south-eastern tableland of Murge. Those who have heard about Castellana, associate the name immediately to the beautiful caves that have made the town famous all over the world. They have also determined a notable economical and touristic progress in the area.
Changing the name to Castellana Grotte (established by d.p.r.) in 1959, highlights the importance of the complex of pits, swallow-holes and caves (those already discovered are about thirty) to the life of the town.
The ancient village
Following the narrow streets from Porta Grande up to the highest point of the town, transversal stone lines set among the chianche* of the paving can be observed. They served as a support for the hooves of the animals that carried merchandises to the town.
The square situated in front of the clock tower is the main square of the town and the largest part of Piazza Nicola e Costa, with the ancient foundation pillars being a meeting point for the citizens.
Via Roma represents the centre of the old part of the town that was built between 1650 and 1800. There are beautiful houses along the street but the most splendid one is ancient Palazzo Longo, currently Giampietro-Mancini (1739) with frescoed fašade and several sculptures adorning it.
* large stones used for street paving
The oldest trace of a vicus or locus of Castellano was found in the Benedictine documents of Conversano. It dates back to 901 and consists of a sales contract of a farm in which "vico Castellano" is mentioned.
Castellano was born as a complex of a few rural houses. Later it became part of the feud of the Norman counts of Conversano and in 1087 it was granted under a full jurisdiction of the Benedictine monastery of the town. This dependence was repeatedly confirmed in the following times.
The village was destroyed and its inhabitants scattered in 1171. Eustasio, abbot in office that time wanted to repopulate the area with vasallage and perpetual colony, entrusting the task to Nicola and Costa who were colonists of Terra d'Otranto and from whom the current population of Castellana derives through an uninterrupted series of generations.
So Castellana was founded in 1171 by Nicola and Costa.
In 1266 pope Clemente IV offered the uninhabited monastery of Conversano to a group of aristocratic nuns of Cisternino who probably had French origins, granting them also the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the monastery. So the abbess of San Benedetto was given the ordinary power over the clergy and the population of Castellano, becoming that way the prelate. Monstrum Apuliae, the wonder of Puglia, was born.
Ecclesiastical jurisdiction was exercised until Gioacchino Murat, a member of Napoleon's family and the king of Naples, abolished it in 1810.
Civil jurisdiction instead was affiliated from the first half of the 14th century till the first half of the 15th century to the Princes of Taranto and from 1456 onwards to the Counts of Conversano.
A complete transformation of agriculture took place towards the end of 17th century. Extended areas of scrubs and woods were transformed into cultivations with olive groves and opulent vineyards. This way the farmers class, composed of the owners of small properties, increased and consolidated and became the most singular economical characteristic of Castellana. The deforestation, though, was caused by recurrent floods that started to devastate the lowest region of the Castellana area, set in a karst valley with no outlets.
All this caused the frightful floods in 1741 and 1784 which claimed several victims. Only a large hydraulic work put an end to the tragedies in 1913. The 18th century brought with it major transformations of all kinds.
This 18th century church has a beautiful Baroque-rococo-styled fašade. A parallelepipedon with four pilasters that shelter the main door, is overlapped by a smaller one flanked by a curvilinear decorative element from which the frontispiece starts and which has a niche with the statue of Madonna in the pediment.
All this is surrounded by little angels with musical instruments in their hands, with wings slightly open. The fašade is very luminous, with small shadows created by three cavities. The two lower ones contain the statues of San Pietro and San Giovanni. The completely plastered vault leans on a cornice. Next to the front door there is a small, well decorated rosette immured in the wall dating back to 1568. On the above-mentioned altarpiece there are four small paintings by Vincenzo Fato. In the centre there is a fair, worn out-coloured picture of Madonna with the Child. This image hides on the back wall a 17th century fresco of another Madonna, certainly spoiled by an inexpert repainting, which would deserve to be restored and worshipped again.
Saint Francis of Assisi's church
Saint Francis of Assisi's church was built in 1651. It belonged to the conventual monks together with the annexed convent which later became the municipal seat. Only a small angle of the cloister in the current arrangement of the Town Hall reminds us of the old monastery, while the cells of the monks have been transformed into wide halls for various offices. The fašade of the church, made of ashlar stone, is clearly Baroque and it has four hanging ribs on the top, next to which there is a curvilinear pattern from which the tympanum starts.
The interior is aisleless and has the form of a latin cross. It is a noble and very harmonious lime plastered complex and more late-Reneissance style than Baroque. The vault, now whitewashed, was originally intended to be frescoed with curvilinear patterns as the sinopia shows, visible in small tracts. To talk about Saint Francis's church means at the same time to talk about three hundred sculptures made by Fra' Luca Principino. Fra' Luca lived almost all the time in the monastery of Castellana until he died, realizing seven magnificent Baroque altars, shaped from the hard local stone. Between the third and fourth arch there is a pulpit, a real jewel, dating back to 1727.
Madonna della Vetrana
This church represents the devotion of the people of Castellana to Madonna della Vetrana who had freed Castellana from a terrible plague. The church and the annexed monastery of Alcantarini (1712), currently served by Friars Minor, form a whitewashed complex of lines and volumes, counterpointed by the archs of a belvedere and small monastic windows. The cupola covered with coloured tiles gives a nice touch of colour and majesty. The interior of the church has the form of a latin cross and it has a barrel vault. It is decorated with beautiful, sober stuccos. The squat volumetry is refined by three lateral arcs in full relief and exalted in the transept with four pillars made of the local stone, with capitals, rich in leaves of acanthus and garlands. In the transept there are two magnificent Baroque altars, decorated with splendid stuccos.
The high altar is a faithful copy of one of the many Baroque altars in Lecce, with a late 14th century icon representing Madonna della Vetrana. This fresco, painted on a slab of stone, imitates the Byzantine style but its features are more delicate. The colours are pale like watercolours and emphasize the beauty and softness of the painting. A very simple cloister is set inside the church, formed by a full relief arcade with a well as the only decorative element set in the centre.
San Leone Magno's church
This Matrix church, dedicated to the great pope San Leone, is certainly the oldest of the city. The first construction set in this place of worship dates back to the 13th century and was naturally of Romanesque style. Only traces, partially visible in the underground which was used for sepulture, and probably the cornice of the rosette, set on the current fašade, remain from the original building.
The church that had existed in the 13th century mustn't have been very large as after a century and a half, most probably for the increasing number of people, a new one was built, enlarging the old Romanesque structure. This new church dates back to 1383, and a Norman tower of defence which later on became the bell tower, was added to it.
San Francesco da Paola's church
The church of San Francesco da Paola or San Giuseppe is set in Porta Grande. The construction of the church and the annexed Monastery of Santa Lucia is due to the Paolotti or Minims of San Francesco da Paola. The united front of the church and the convent, preceded by a holy rustico, is of sober Romanesque style, refined by a barocco portal of the church and by the slender bell tower with overlapped arcs and a spired cornice set in the entrance. A small rosette breaks the monotony of several ashlars on the monastery's door. The monastery, now transformed into old people's rest home, has a central cloister and wide rooms on the ground floor.
The interior of the church has the form of a latin cross and is completely adorned with stuccos. It is formed by three lateral arcs in full relief, with an overlooking cornice with a moulding and a barrel vault. The transet is delimited by four imposing pillars and as many round arcs which support a cupola, illuminated by the golden colours of a large fresco. In the presbytery there is the higher altar right against a small elevation with painted sculptures and it is embellished by a choir loft and an 18th century organ, both beautifully decorated with fine gold.
The Caves of Castellana
Were discovered on 23rd January 1938 by professor Franco Anelli and its possible to visit them underground. The route takes from 50 minutes to 2 hours and it winds for three kilometres among vast caves which are rich in concretionary, long and narrow corridors and the enchanting White Cave, a real wonder of nature with white stalactites "raining" from the roof, created by slowly dripping waters. The existence of the caves of Castellana (set a few kilometres from the town of Castellana) was known already in the 18th century but no one had ever ventured to explore and study them inside. It is a complex of karstic underground cavities formed by waters of a river filtered in from fissures and absorbed by calcareous ground.
The coast situated to the south of Bari is characterized by the rocks but there are also several sandy beaches especially on the coast near Monopoli. These beaches on which it is nice to relax and swim, are mainly concentrated on the area of Polignano a Mare. In the north the shore of San Giovanni is the only one with fine sand in that tract. The beach of San Vito, set only a few kilometres from there in a small fishermen's village, can be distinguished for the beauty of the landscape.
Cala Paura instead is set right next to Polignano and it is formed by white cobbles. To the south of Monopoli, in addition to the frequented beach of Capitolo where the sea is particularly clean in some tracts, the narrow and rocky Cala di Torre Incina, overlooked by a tower having the same name and dating back to 1539 is worth mentioning together with the shore of Santo Stefano which takes its name from the nearby Benedictine abbey dating back to 1086.
Putignano is the small jewel of the Puglian coast, immersed between the sky and the sea. This luminous landscape painted by harmonious tones of blue is a treat for the eyes.
The town is famous for its Carneval, the longest in Italy, and has very old origins: it starts on 26th December and lasts till the Sunday after Ash Wednesday.
Monopoli is a very important coastal city. Its old town is dominated by the Romanesque 12th century cathedral dedicated to Madonna della Madia. A Byzantine icon of the Virgin that according to tradition the sea gave on board raft to the faithful people of Monopoli (this event is remembered on 16th January and 15th August with a joyful festival) is conserved in the church. Among other sights are the Castle with its mighty, fortified walls, the fishing port (the fishers moor their polychromatic boats in the port of Monopoli, a strategic place for the oil trade which made this Puglian city an important point of reference even for the powerful Venice between 15th and 16th century), Santa Maria Amalfitana's and San Salvatore's churches and the rocky crypt dedicated to Madonna del Soccorso.
San Nicola di Senna
The church of San Nicola dating back to the 16th century is set in the intersection point of seven roads. The surrounding hills were part of the vast Feud of Genna, once covered by vineyards. Several traces scattered in the area around the church (ceramic findings, mirrors and other things) indicate that the whole area was inhabited during Middle Ages.
Neviera of San Nicola di Genna prove the industrial ability of the ancient populations. It was used to obtain ice from snow in a natural way. The snow was conserved until the warmer season in a deep underground room dating back to 1788. If looked carefully, its possible to see the surprising building techniques contrived in order to carry out even the most difficult stages of the work.
Gastronomic tradition of Castellana was born poor but with the time passing it became more and more rich and elaborated. Among the principal ingredients there are vegetables of the season, pasta of wheat, flour of the golden wheat of Puglia, legumes and other ingredients obtained from the land. Recipes for the preparation of colourful preserves are several and they are prepared during all seasons and consumed around the year.
Via Andresini , 22
tel. +39 080-4967659
Via Alcantarini, 14
tel. +39 080-4968010
C.da Scamardella, 59
tel. +39 080-4966300
Via per Conversano, 204
tel. +39 080-4962181
mobile +39 348-2513659
This 19th century villa di "Serragambetta" is set between Castellana and Conversano. The main part of the building, constructed around 1880 by doctor Domenico Lanera, opens onto the wide courtyard, paved with local stones. Other buildings are divided into the pre-existent tower, a small stable and a former wine establishment. From the court it is possible to enter the garden below, and from there the small woods of oaks and other trees of the Mediterranean scrub. The seven living units used for farm holiday reception are situated in these structures. Their composition varies but they are all very comfortable and provided with independent utilities. The furnishings date back to the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century. Domenico Lanera and his mother Perna (Aunt Nina for the televiewers of Verdemattina of Rai Uno) offer warm and friendly reception. Among the kitchen specialties of "Serragambetta" there are breaded broad beans, flans, flat breads and rustic "calzoni", almond cakes and rosolios.
Opening period: all-year-round
Opening hours: lunch and dinner
Credit cards: all
Via per Conversano, 204
tel. +39 080-4962181
Via Serritella, 1
tel. +39 080-4962545
Relais & Le Jardin
C. da Scamardella, 59
tel. +39 080-4966300
Hotel Le Soleil
Via Conversano, 157
tel. +39 080-4965133