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Bari Cruises

About Bari

Located at the heel of Italy’s boot, on the scenic shores of the Adriatic Sea, the bustling port of Bari is capital of the celebrated Puglia region. A picturesque port boasting a sunny, palm-lined promenade, it’s also a lively university town and—thanks to its prime coastal location—a major gateway to Greece, Albania and Croatia.

A prominent seaport since the time of the ancient Romans, when it was known as Barium, the city briefly fell under Arab and Byzantine control. In the 11th century, it was conquered by Normans, descendants of the Vikings, who used the port as a strategic base from which to mount the First Crusade. Later a part of the Holy Roman Empire, Bari subsequently was ruled by the Milan-based Sforza family before becoming a part of the Kingdom of Naples in the 16th century.

Bari Lifestyle and Culture

The city’s historic center, known as Bari Vecchia, is a maze of narrow, winding streets and charming, honey-hued stone buildings. It’s an unforgettably atmospheric area where discoveries lurk around every corner.

In the Quartiere delle Orecchiette, women sit at wooden tables outside their front doors, chatting while hand-rolling pasta. Nearby, the Cathedral of San Sabino, a Romanesque marvel, dates to the 13th century. In the Piazza Mercantile, a tempting array of osterias faces the square, where medieval debtors were once tied, flogged, and publicly humiliated on the somber stone monument known as the Colona della Giustizia (Column of Justice).

At the city’s waterfront, colorful fishing boats bob in the tranquil, turquoise harbor. A stroll along the Lungomare leads to the Palazzo della Provincia. This arresting neoclassical building, built in the 1930s as a legislative seat, now houses the Pinacoteca Provinciale (Provincial Painting Gallery), one of Puglia’s most important art museums. Its collection includes works by southern Italian artists dating from the 11th through 18th centuries, most notably Giovanni Bellini’s painting Martyrdom of St. Peter.

A visit to the Casbah today reveals an intimate look at daily life in Algiers. Children kick soccer balls around narrow alleyways. Laundry hangs out to dry in the sun while women in headscarves buy oranges and eggplants from street vendors’ stalls. Merchants lead donkeys through narrow lanes as residents share mint tea and conversation in modest cafés.

Bari Sights and Landmarks

The splendid Romanesque Basilica of St. Nicholas, named for Bari’s patron saint, dates back to the 12th century. An important site for both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox pilgrims, the church contains the relics of Nicholas of Myra, a 4th-century Greek bishop whose predilection for anonymous gift-giving inspired the legend of Santa Claus. Originally interred in Turkey, the remains of St. Nicholas were brought to Bari in 1087 by enterprising fishermen.

Outwardly austere, the church’s interior is far more impressive, featuring a gilded ceiling, mosaic floors, and the elaborate bishop’s throne, sculpted from a single block of white marble. The subterranean crypt, however, remains the main draw: On May 9 each year, the day on which the saint’s remains arrived in Bari, the tomb is said to exude a sweet-smelling, watery substance known as manna.

West of Bari Vecchia, overlooking San Sabino, is the imposing Swabian Castle. Built by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the 12th century, this formidable Norman-style fortress has served throughout the centuries as an army barracks, prison and royal residence. Today, it is home to a museum whose eclectic exhibits include photography, modern art and sculpture.

The opulent Teatro Petruzzelli, with its distinctive rose-hued, Art Nouveau facade, is one of Italy’s most important opera houses. Built in 1903, the venue has been graced by such legendary performers as Rudolf Nureyev, Luciano Pavarotti and Frank Sinatra. Completely destroyed by a fire in 1991, it reopened its doors in 2009, following a prolonged reconstruction.

Bari Entertainment and Activities

During your stay in Bari, consider a visit to nearby Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its fascinating trulli houses: squat buildings of whitewashed limestone with distinctive conical roofs. Originally built during the 14th century as temporary shelters for goods and farm laborers, trulli are notable for their mortarless construction—an ancient method still in use today.

Italians are passionate about soccer, and when the home team (F.C. Bari) is in town, Stadio San Nicola (St. Nicholas Stadium) comes alive with enthusiastic fans. Built in 1990, the year Italy hosted the FIFA World Cup championship, the stadium is also known as l’Astronave (the Spaceship), for its sleek, modern design.

Bari Restaurants and Shopping

Visitors to Italy are rarely disappointed by the country’s cuisine, and Bari is no exception. As you might expect from a coastal city, seafood features prominently on local menus. But as befits a region renowned for its agriculture, meat and vegetables are also mainstays of cucina Barese.

For atmosphere, few restaurants can top La Locanda di Federico. Housed in a medieval building replete with flagstone floors and soaring ceilings, it serves up local specialties like orecchiette con cime di rapa (“little ears” pasta with turnip greens and anchovies) and zampina di suino e manzo (grilled sausages with roasted potatoes).

Some of the city’s best seafood can be found at Ristorante Biancofiore, a charming, family-owned restaurant near the Lungomare and Teatro Margherita. From grilled octopus and redfish carpaccio to beetroot risotto with scallops and hand-rolled cavatelli with prawns and pistachios, the menu here is abundant with frutti di mare.

The city’s Murat District, south of Bari Vecchia, offers the best opportunities for shopping. Aside from the chain stores found in other major cities, you’ll find smaller shops offering traditional Pugliese handcrafts, such as embroidered linens, papier-mâché figurines (known locally as cartapesta) and ceramics. You can also purchase bottles of “green gold,” the high-quality olive oil for which Puglia is known, and robust red wines produced by local vineyards.