Bari Old Town: Exploring the Historic Heart of Apulia

The capital of the Apulia region of southern Italy, Bari is one of the most important cities in this part of the country. Home to a major port on the Adriatic Sea and a University, this city of more than 300,000 people is a major economic driver in a historically impoverished region and a popular stop for cruise ships as well as cargo ships.

And yet, Bari doesn’t get the international tourist numbers other Italian cities enjoy. Bari receives close to 700,000 international tourists a year, which is certainly a respectable figure for a city its size, but nowhere near the numbers Naples gets, never mind even more popular Italian destinations like Florence and Venice.

But maybe that’s a good thing. Bari is popular enough to have all the tourist amenities you might want but still quiet enough that it can feel like an undiscovered gem. Italian tourists certainly know all about the charm of this historic city and its Adriatic coastline, but it’s still easy to avoid the tourist crowds and enjoy a more authentic atmosphere here.

Bari is famous for its Old Town, a beautifully preserved district that hearkens back to a time long before Italy was formed into the modern country it is today. Drop off your bags at a convenient Bounce luggage storage in Bari and lose yourself among the beautiful buildings of Apulia’s historic heart.

Bari Old Town

Bari Old Town: Exploring the Historic Heart of Apulia

Bari was founded by the Peuceti tribe, who recognized the usefulness of the city’s natural harbor. Known to ancient Greek traders, the city became part of the Roman Republic in the third century BC and subsequently part of the Roman Empire. Following the collapse of the Empire, the city fell into the hands of the Lombards, then the Byzantine Empire. During this time, it became a major trading center for slaves from Europe who were sold throughout Byzantine lands.

The city changed hands several times over the years, finally becoming part of the Kingdom of Naples in the 16th century. It was Napoleon’s brother-in-law Joachim Murat who, as King of Naples in the 19th century, laid out the orderly grid of streets that now bears his name. But all the while, the old town of Bari, or Barivecchia, remained as a relic of the complex history.

Because of Bari’s pattern of occupation by various European powers over the centuries, Barivecchia contains monuments and relics from various historical periods. That makes it a fascinating place to wander, but be careful. The tangled streets can easily become a maze, so a good map is essential. Still, there are a few more charming places to lose yourself for a few hours, a day, or even longer.

Things to see

Bari Castle

Built by Roger of Sicily in 1131, Bari Castle, also known as the Swabian Castle or Castello Svevo, didn’t last long. In fact, it was destroyed in 1136. However, the castle was rebuilt around 1230 and has been one of the city’s most distinctive structures ever since.

This huge castle is a great place to learn more about medieval Bari. It also functions as the headquarters of the regional government, but the areas open to the public often host art exhibitions and other events, making this a fantastic place to start your exploration of Old Bari.

Saint Nicholas Basilica

Founded in 1087, this is one of the oldest buildings still standing in Bari. The church was built to house the relics of the saint, which has made it a major pilgrimage site for people from around the world, especially Russians.

Along with the relics of the saint under the altar, the interior of this Catholic structure also houses a bishop’s throne that dates back to the late 11th century and the tomb of the 16th-century queen of Poland.

Bari Cathedral

The first Cathedral in Bari was built back in the sixth century, but all that remains of this building is a mosaic floor. It was followed by another Cathedral built in the early 11th century, making it slightly older than the Basilica of St. Nicholas, but this cathedral was also destroyed. The current Cathedral dates back to the 13th century.

Next to the cathedral, you’ll find the Diocesan Museum, which contains important artifacts from the very earliest days of the church, including a Byzantine manuscript with beautiful illuminations to help illiterate churchgoers understand what was going on during the service.

Via Venezia

Barivecchia is absolutely full of beautiful streets, but this major thoroughfare is well worth seeking out. It follows the route of the old city walls, winding its way around the old town and down to the harbor. Offering beautiful views of the coastline, it’s also a great place to find cafés, bars, and restaurants where you can stop and enjoy some refreshments while you soak up the historic atmosphere of the town.

Piazza Mercantile

Located close to the waterfront on the eastern side of the old town, this historic Piazza has been a gathering place for local residents for centuries. And it still serves that function today. In the sunny climate of southern Italy, locals live much of their lives outdoors, and this public square makes the perfect gathering place to enjoy a pre-dinner drink in the grand Italian tradition.

There’s always something going on in the piazza, so it’s the perfect place to finish a walk through the charming streets and enjoy the ambiance.

Bari Old Town

Bari Old Town: Exploring the Historic Heart of Apulia

As the most historic district of this ancient city, Bari’s Old Town is a place well worth exploring. Allow yourself to get lost in the quaint streets, and you’ll come across beautiful buildings and monuments just about everywhere you look. With architectural styles spanning almost a thousand years of history, along with fascinating museums, churches, and plenty of good places to eat, Bari’s Old Town is an absolute joy to explore.