Puglia, with its beautiful beaches and landscapes, stunning architecture and friendly people has become hugely popular as a holiday destination.
When most travelers think “Italian beach vacation,” they think of places like Portofino and Capri. Puglia is pretty much the exact opposite of those places and all the better for it. While the Italian Riviera and Amalfi Coast are well-groomed, glamorous, and sparkling, Puglia is rugged, simple, and totally laid-back. Its landscape, studded with farmhouses and miles of olive groves, reminds one of neighboring Greece. But its spirit remains 100 percent Italian. Located in the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia is where Italians vacation. This summer I had the pleasure to visit this region, in particular my father’s hometown of Ostuni located about 11 km from the coast, in the province of Brindisi. This charming, fortified hill town is known as “la città bianca” (the white city) due to its whitewashed buildings and city walls, which give it a very exotic feel, more Greek or Middle Eastern than Italian.
The stark white of the town is broken up by some beautiful historical architecture, all of which stands out from its surroundings. The Messapii ancient Italian population founded the first nucleus of the city in seventh century BC on the top of a hill protected by walls, which also sheltered it from attacks, and provided for the construction of roads. Later, in third century BC, the Romans conquered it and today some Roman traces remain in farms built on the foundations of Roman villas. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Saracens and Byzantines settled, in turn leaving visible traces of their occupation. The Aragonese created four-door access to the village of which today only the twelfth century Porta Nova is still evident, as well as the Thirteen Towers and Porta San Domenico, both built in the thirteenth century. With the Spanish rule in 1506, Ostuni began to experience a period of splendor by the granting of special favors by the Dukes. The decline of Ostuni began in the seventeenth century due to the debts incurred during the “Thirty Years War” (European conflicts from 1618 to 1648). King Philip IV of Habsburg sold it to the family Zevallos, merchants that then impoverished it. Moreover, the plague began to rage in the surroundings even if it did not directly strike the village, as the whitewash used to paint houses turned out to be a good and effective natural disinfectant. With the advent of the Bourbon dynasty in the eighteenth century, the city slowly began to flourish.