It is with great pleasure that we explore one region of Italy at a time in order to learn more about our Italian culture, including the history, the dances, foods, dialects, le usanze (the customs), the many proverbs and anything else that will shine light on the many beauties of our wonderful Italian regions. By the way, please email us and tell us about any particularity that you’re aware of about any Italian region. Although, we can’t guarantee that we will be able to include it in future newsletters, we will surely take note and thank you for contributing to our fun journey together.
Let’s begin with the region of Puglia, (Apulia), where I was born.
You may know it as the heel of Italy, which has to its north the region of Molise, to its west the region of Calabria, southwest the region of Basilicata and to its east the Ionian and Adriatic seas. It is important to note that over these seas, we are a quick boat ride away from our neighbors Albania, Bosnia-Hezregvina, Croatia, Greece and Montenegro, these influences can be seen in Puglia. It is especially important if you’re interested in unraveling the many different dialects found throughout the many provinces of Puglia and maybe some other regions throughout Italy as well to consider the linguistic and cultural influences of our neighbors.
The capital of Puglia is Bari; here you will find the International Airport formerly named Palese, but renamed after Pope John Paul II as Karol Wojtyla Airport. From here you have international travel access not only via the airport, but also via seaport or railway where you can travel to popular destinations around the globe.
With an area of 19,345 square kilometers, Puglia is almost the size of New Jersey (22,608 square Kilometers).
Puglia can either be divided into three sections North “il Gargano”, Central “il Barese” and South “il Salento” or it can be divided into six main provinces;
Foggia – here you can visit the Gargano region, which is the only mountainous area of Puglia. Il Gargano is “the spur of the Italian boot”. Here you can visit Vieste, Peschici or Mattinata for its resort beaches and the place where you can visit the Tremiti Islands. Visit the oldest shrine in Western Europe dedicated to Archangel Michael on Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano while visting.
Barletta, Andria Trani province – Here you can visit Il Castel del Monte. This region is also known for its almonds.
Bari – The capital of Puglia is known for its gastronomy. The City center, Bari Vecchia, has been redeveloped and sees a vibrant nightlife with pubs and restaurants around the two main squares Piazza Mercantile and Piazza Ferrarese.
Taranto – Known as the Spartan City since, it was founded by Spartans in 706BC. It is also Italy’s main naval base. You can visit the Dorian columns here, which is further proof that Dorian immigrants from Greece were early settlers. Taranto is also known for the famous folk dance, “La Tarantella” , that originated with a myth that after one was bitten by a spider, dancing would sweat out the venom. Obviously these spiders were not tarantulas, and their venom was not fatal. Eventually La Tarantella developed into a local dance that spread throughout the region, and you should definitely try to learn if you make it to Puglia.
Brindisi – Also an ancient Greek settlement, and named “head of the deer” or Brentesion by the Greeks after the shape of its port. The largest non-Italian ethnic group that has migrated to Brindisi has historically been from Albania although the shift has more recently been of Northern European families from England and Ireland buying villas in the Brindisi region as their retirement plan. Akin to Chiantishire for families migrating to Tuscany, this phenomenon has been coined Salentoshire.
Lecce – The Florence of the south for its baroque architecture, and one of the only places in Italy where you can find the Griko language spoken, said to have been settled by Cretans in Greek records.
The Mediterranean climate in Puglia renders the dry temperature in the winter months around forty degrees fahrenheit and close to eighty degrees in the summer months.
The Cuisine in Puglia is simple; from the local farms and waters you can find dishes featuring snails, octopus, horse meat, and blue fish. Some well-known dishes are orecchiette with broccoletti, baked rice potatoes and mussels, stuffed sweet or savory dough named pettole or panzerotti, wine pretzels with fennel seeds named tarallini, and hard half bagels named friselle, which are drizzled with water and oil and garnished with local cherry tomatoes, oregano, and salt. Cartellate are typically eaten during the Christmas season, garnished with vincotto made from a fig reduction.
The region has a rich vegetable repertoire that sees pickled eggplants, caponata, cured olives, capers, dried tomatoes, almond milk, and features locally grown animal products, such as fresh cheeses and cured meats.
If you like good wine, you must try the locally grown Aleatico di Puglia, Malvasia nera di Brindisi, and Ostuni DOC, there are so many different local small producers that it may be easier to name my favorite wine experience one summer evening at Vineria EST in Bari, where I had a wine paired dinner with only Primitivo grapes that crossed the spectrum from a sparkling white wine all the way to a dessert wine. Later on I also discovered one of my favorite vineyards in Puglia, Cantine Cantele and their Teresa Manara wine of which I forget the vintage that I tried, but it was such a pleasant table wine that I would definitely try another of their bottles. The predominant grape of Puglia is Negroamaro, which has been said to have been brought over by colonizing Greeks in the 8th and 7th century b.c. It is dark-skinned red grape that is blended with Primitivo for a more balanced flavor.
Concluding, Puglia is a microcosm of small gems ready to be discovered; some call it the new Tuscany, as it is the summer destination for many Italians, Europeans and anyone that enjoys the slow summer life near the beach surrounded by fresh fruits and vegetables and good local wine. I am absolutely confident I have left many details out of this newsletter, (such as the UNESCO recognized Cathedrals of Puglia, limestone dwellings of Alberobello, I Trulli di Alberobello, The Castellana Caves etcetera), partly because I have much to learn and partly because you should explore the region and let us know what else we should share with our great Italian-American community.
If we must go, let’s go, if we are not going, let’s not go.
Se dobbiamo andare, andiamo, se non ce ne dobbiamo andare, non ce ne adiamo.
“Si n’ama sce’ sciumanenn, se ne’ngenamma sce’, nan’ge ne scem scenn”.
If Paris had a sea, it would be a little Bari.
Se Parigi avesse il mare, sarebbe una piccola Bari.
Si Pareg’ avess l’umer, sarebb na piccolo Ber!
Wikipedia, Unesco, and Sante Antonelli’s memories.