The City of Saint Nicholas

B   A   R   I

Bari is the capital city of the region of Apulia. It is situated on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Its location is almost in the centre of the coast of Puglia (although a little bit to the north). The city has always been a very important commercial centre and that’s why it’s the second significant commercial hub of Southern Italy after Naples. The most vivid economic sectors developed in Bari are food, petrochemical and mechanical industries plus agriculture (grape, olives and almonds, in particular). It’s also a major port and university city.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-10As to the history of Bari, it dates back far to the Bronze Age when the first settlements were made on the small promontory where la Bari Vecchia (i.e. the Old Town) is situated nowadays. In Ancient Roman times the city flourished and increased its importance mainly owing to the construction of la Via Appia Traiana. Various nations pretended to rule it but probably it had its most prestigious years under the rule of the Normans. Bari was confined within the Old Town until 1813 when Gioacchino Napoleone Murat (Joachim-Napoléon Murat) commissioned the construction of the New Town beyond the medieval walls. After the fall of the King of Naples, the city was in the hands of the Bourbons for a short period of time. Finally, in 1860 Bari became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-11Every visit to Bari starts definitely from la Città Vecchia which occupies the northern parts of the city. It is one of the most beautiful Old Towns I have been to, as a matter of fact. It’s very peculiar because you surely get lost in the labyrinth of small, tiny and winding streets which hide small chapels and churches, numerous souvenirs shops, cafés and restaurants, and other secrets. But the most amazing thing is to have a long walk in Bari Vecchia at lunch time. Then the town is entirely deserted. All tiny streets are only “yours”. And only then you are able to feel the rhythm of the locals …. by absorbing the smells of the delicious local dishes coming from every single kitchen around …. or by wondering here and there and curiously looking into people’s houses through the open doors and windows or hanging laundry in front …. or by listening to their conversations in barese (it’s the local dialect) without understanding them well.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-12La Bari Vecchia also houses the Basilica of Saint Nicholas, the Cathedral of San Sabino and the Hohenstaufen Castle built for Frederick II. The major site in the Old Town is la Basilica di San Nicola. The Saint’s relics were bought to Bari in the 1087 century. Thus the city became one of the three principal religious places of Christianity of that time. Actually, since then the Church and the relics kept have been a major pilgrimage destination both for Orthodox and Roman Christians.

I will open a bracket here. Saint Nicholas (or also known as San Nicola of Bari, San Nicola of Myra, San Nicolò) is venerated by the Christian Church (both Orthodox and Catholic). He was born in the 3rd century in the town of Patara (in today’s Turkey).

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-14His family was wealthy and his parents brought him up as a true Christian. After his parents’ death in epidemic, young Nicolas gave out all he had to the poor. Later he became a Greek bishop of Myra, which is today’s town of Demre (present Turkey), in the Byzantine Empire, in the fourth century.

The Saint of the Ancient Hellenic town in Lycia is known to have been a secret gift-giver as well as a protector and patron of sailors, fishermen and merchants, kids and students, even brewers and repentant thieves. As I said above, his relics were bought to Bari in the 11th century (they have still been kept there and that’s why he is also known as San Nicola of Bari and the city itself is often nicknamed as “The City of Saint Nicholas”) and some of them to Venice (in 1100). Part of his remains is also in Rimini, Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, Bucharest, Volos and Bulgaria (in the town of Chernomoretz).

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-15As a patron of the City of Bari, San Nicolas has two feast days a year. La Festa a mare is commemorated on May 8 with a regatta of boats that follows the boat on which the relics of the Saint are placed. Then, on December 6, there is another tradition, this time dedicated to unmarried women (Il Rito delle nubili). Young single ladies attend an early-morning mass during which they should go around a column seven times and thus they will get married soon. The same ritual exists also in Sassari.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-13Saint Nicolas is known as San Nicolò in other parts of Italy like Trieste, Friuli, Udine, Bolzano, Belluno and he brings gifts to children on the sixth day of December. During the whole first week of the month there is a joyful fair (Fiera di San Nicolò). Sometimes this feast is much more important than Christmas itself and San Nicolò is more loved by children than the Italian Santa Claus (i.e. il Babbo Natale) but all this depends greatly on the family culture and background. Bracket closed.

The Cathedral of San Sabino is il Duomo of Bari. Although it’s the main city’s cathedral, it is less famous than that of San Nicholas. It was built in the period 12-13 century. Actually, it was built on the ruins of the Byzantine Cathedral destroyed William I of Sicily (nicknamed as il Malo or the Wicked).  If you have some more time, you will see the traces and remains of the original floort of the ex-cathedral.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-16U Castídde is the barese name of the Hohenstaufen Castle while the colloquial one is Castello Normanno-Svevo. The Norman citadel was initially built by Norman King Roger II of Sicily around 1131. An interesting fact is that it was destroyed by local people themselves 25 years later as they had already been fed up with the numerous struggles against the Normans. It was rebuilt by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. The castle played the role of a prison and barracks for some time in the past. Nowadays it is open to the audience and it houses la Gipsoteca (the City’s Gallery of Bari). Once one crosses the bridge and enters the main southern gate, they dive into one extremely fascinating passed world and they are amazed with the impressing monumental staurcase. And if you choose to visit the castle district at night, you will be embraced by the nightlife of Bari.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-17Now it’s high time we headed to the south where the New Town is – Il quartiere Murat (the Murat Quarter). This is the commercial centre of the city where you can do the shopping. It stretches from the railway station area of Bari to the coast and constitutes the very city centre together with la Bari Vecchia. Il quartiere Murat is named after its creator – Gioacchino Napoleone Murat (Joachim-Napoléon Murat). He was a French Marshal and Napoleon’s brother-in-law.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-18As the King of Naples from 1808 – 1815, he commissioned the construction of il borgo nuovo (the New Town) of Bari beyond the medieval walls but near la Città Vecchia at the same time. He ordered the medieval walls be dismantled and replaced by il Corso Vittorio Emanuele. This new southern city zone known as “gioacchino” and later – as “muratiano” turned into the most vivid part of Bari with the above mentioned boulevard and la Piazza Umberto I which house l’ Università degli Studi (Bari University). Its charm derives from the rectangular grid-plan on which it was built with a promenade on the sea and too many shops along the numerous streets.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-20If you are somewhere in the centre of Bari you should pay a visit to two very popular squares in the city. The first one is la Piazza Mercantile which was used to be the heart of the historic centre of the city. It was the authentic political centre of Bari in medieval times as well as a trade and exchange place in proximity to the other vivid square – la Piazza del Ferrarese. The Square Mercantile is dotted by a great number of edifices which once belonged to very old barese families. This is also the place where il Sedile dei Nobili (the Seat of Nobles) is located. As for the symbol of the Square, it is la Colonna della Giustizia (or Bari’s Column of Justice) in the form of a stone lion. The pile of stones was the place where fraudulents were tied up to and they had to ask people for mercy and justice. Last thing here. Ll Sedile was here in the past and it was the old meeting point of the nobles of Bari.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-19Now we are moving to the second popular square of Bari, i.e. la Piazza del Ferrarese. It is located just in front of the Old Port, overlooking the sea and il Lungomare (promenade) Imperatore Augusto, and it touches the southern outskirts of la Bari Vecchia. It was named after one very ordinary 17th century merchant, Stefano Fabri by name, from Ferrara who lived in Bari at that period of time. Nowadays the square is a famous gathering point for locals and tourists alike, especially at night, as it offers an awesome sea view. By the way, while enjoying these spectacular panoramas of the Adriatic Sea, you go back to the ancient Roman times when via Appia-Traian was constructed at the beginning of the second century AD. Why am I saying this? … Because some traces of the old road have been illuminated recently. Moreover, la Piazza del Ferrarese with its shape is a preferable place for holding various theatre performances, artistic presentations and concerts.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-21If you are there, don’t miss along the sea promenade of Bari. It’s really long and well-maintained. It gives the opportunity to have a stop and enjoy the Adriatic Sea. It is full of people joking, having a walk or just having a rest on one of the numerous benches there. It’s really a very vivid place which you shouldn’t miss at any cost. If you take this chance, have a 20-minute stroll from la Città Vecchia to the other side of il Lingomare. There you will find the only beach along the coast. It’s not a big one, there is one café where you might have a cup of espresso.

418-the-city-of-saint-nicholas-22Now are going to cross the railway station district of Bari in order to sea really magnificent church, namely the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church. It was built in the 20th century on a land which was a result of a trade-off between the Russian president and the Italian government. The aim of its construction is to welcome pilgrims from Russia who come to Bari in order to pray in front of the relics of   Saint Nicholas in the Basilica in la Città Vecchia.


3 thoughts on “The City of Saint Nicholas

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