Translation edited by: Arianna Cassani.
Article written by: Sara Fumagalli
Puglia region, the southern Italian territory that forms the heel of the Italian Boot and where its history left his mark, has always been considered a famous Italian outpost towards Greece and the Slavic and Byzantine Balkans, but also towards the Muslim East. Up to 1071 Bari and its territory belonged to the Byzantines and people spoke Greek language. Later, Puglia became the beloved land of Federico Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor who spoke all the languages of the Mediterranean area besides German, who loved Italy, the Roman law and hunting with falcons.
The main protagonist of this territory is Federico II of Svevia, and his son wrote some words after his death: “The sun of the world falls asleep, he who glowed on the people, the sun of the upright people, the shelter of peace”.
A brilliant man and rich in intuition, Federico II was the sovereign of the Holy Roman Empire, King of Germany and of the Kingdom of Sicily. In Puglia region, down the tracks of Federico II, we can still see some fortresses, sumptuous palaces and summer houses that give personality to the panorama that his name, in a different way, gives to every small city of this territory.
Today, to catch a sight of his passage through Foggia, we need to visit the under city.
Strolling through the alleys of the old town, we get up to the “Chiesa dei Morti” located in Purgatorio Square. There were a lot of legends on satanic rituals linked to this little white church, anything but spooky. The Church Maria Santissima della Misericordia, this is its real name, is a marvel of colour, filled with light. It remained closed for a lot of years, and unholy. Two years ago started the restoration work and people could visit it and see its intense blue, coffered ceiling, decorated with skulls (that are also present in the frescos of the church.
In front of the main entrance of the church there’s a little door that leads to the Hypogaeum of Foggia. Walking down the stairs, You can reach the outer part of one of the summer houses of Federico II.
There are three rooms and in one of them we can see a well where people stored food. The arches and the floors are in good conditions even if it has passed much time (eight centuries) from their construction, and during the war period they were used as air-raid shelter. Bombs and earthquakes tore down houses and neighbourhoods, but the culture survived. In the past, Foggia was an important city, and Federico II chose it as the place for his marriage. Once, people who lived there walked fiercely across the Hypogaeum in Foggia.
In 1223, the capital of its Reign was transferred from Palermo to Foggia, and this gave to Puglia region and to the city of Foggia itself a strategic role, compared to the other territories of the Empire.
Walking along the road that leads to Trani, the route is scattered with extraordinary beautiful works of art, like Castel Del Monte. Trani isalso known as “The Pearl of the Adriatic”, it is famous for the Romanic Cathedral that overlooks the sea and it is considered one of the “Italian Wonders”.
The castle, founded in 1230 and built for the protection of the Reign of Sicily, arises not far from the famous cathedral, strategically placed in the middle of a natural harbour, whose grounds are considered a natural defence.
Its characteristic harbour is a crossroads for peoples and cultures of the Mediterranean and also a gateway to the East. A city full of artistic and architectural beauties, Churches of different times (Church of Templar, the Monastery, the Jewish District and its temple) and elegant buildings that give evidence of its glorious past: it was an important commercial stopover up to XVI century, and it is thought that here it was promulgated the first Maritime Code in the Western World, the Ordinamenta et Consuetudo Maris, in 1063.
The discovery of Trani starts from the Cathedral of San Nicola Pellegrino, a Romanesque treasure suspended above the sea, uncommonly high in comparison to the other religious buildings of this region, with an inside well decorated, with the two crypts of San Nicola and Santa Maria and the hypogaeum of San Leucio.
A few steps away from the Cathedral, we can see the Svevo Castle, majestic fort wanted by Federico II, and behind the back of the harbour there are the alleys of the Jewish District of Giudecca, in between the ancient temples and the craft stores. Not far from there, there’s the Local Mansion, a public garden that overlooks the sea, and a mile away from the built-up area, there’s the Monastery of Santa Maria Colonna.
The “Pearl of the Adriatic” is a little jewel in which You can relive the whole splendour that characterized the majestic figure of Federico II of Svevia that, unlike Foggia, here is still visible above the sea level, even if in front of its gushing beauty one might ask oneself the Shakespearean question: “To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub.”