the intellectual

“Where are you taking me?” – “I’m taking you to Bari, my dear” – words of Alberto Sordi and Monica Vitti from the famous film “Polvere di Stelle”. Today, the actor and actress are accompanying us on a guided tour around Bari’s magic and mysteries.

We follow them, and follow the salty sea air blowing from the heart of Bari’s old town, up to the medieval towers and small courtyards upon which ever-present madonnas look down and shower their blessings – But back to the film. Alberto Sordi’s 1973 film “Polvere di Stelle” is today the curtain-raiser for us onto the dramatic microcosm of the Teatro Petruzzelli.

The Teatro is Italy’s fourth biggest theatre and is situated on the Corso Cavour, one of Bari’s most elegant boulevards, in the heart of the Murat district. With “Polvere di Stelle”, Apulia’s capital debuted as a full member of the circle of Italian film cities. Having just arrived in town, the film’s two protagonists, capocomico Mimmo Adami and showgirl Dea Dani bow – deeply moved – before the theatre on whose stage they’ll later perform.

I, too, bow in spirit before this architectural beauty, destroyed by arson in 1991 and later rebuilt with its original elements. Another scene from the film was shot in the legendary Albergo delle Nazioni hotel, fondly dubbed the “Ocean Liner” by Bari’s natives because of its orientation to the sea and its striking design. When you head from the old town towards the Lungomare Nazario Sauro, the hotel is the first contemporary building you see on the city’s modern skyline, forming the starting point for a series of magnificent administrative and military buildings.

Bari’s connection with films is much older in purely geographic terms, however. The Cineporto was created on the Lungomare Starita as Apulia’s base for various film crews. It’s situated directly next to the trade fair grounds of the Fiera del Levante and has meanwhile become established as a public centre for art and culture.

Tetaro Petruzzelli. Bari
Petruzzelli Theatre
L'Arco Meraviglia. Bari
Marvel Arch
Puglia Design Store. Spazio Murat. Bari
Puglia Design Store, Spazio Murat

We now leave Bari’s suburbs behind and return to the city centre, to the Piazza del Ferrarese, where the Spazio Murat was created in front of the old fish market. It comprises the city’s cultural focus and is dedicated to contemporary art and culture. Inside, I find the Puglia Design Store, a gem for any modern art fan and positioned exactly on the threshold between old and new Bari.

The Spazio Murat promotes “made in Apulia” design and is divided into two areas: a concept store showcasing artists from the region and an event location for exhibitions of all types. Together with the former Teatro Margherita – a magnificent historical theatre on the sea – and the former fish market, it forms the epicentre of contemporary art. Here, from 2018 and 2019 on, it will be possible to enjoy music events, dance, theatre, art exhibitions and everything conceivable to do with culture.

Puglia Design Store, Spazio Murat

Bari is made for people, not cars, so the city should be investigated on foot at all costs. In fact, almost any destination can be reached very quickly by walking from here. And it’s also a good way to discover one or the other shortcut that would otherwise remain unexplored.

I leave the Piazza del Ferrarese behind and prepare to dive into the mysterious labyrinth of Bari Vecchia. Behind the city wall, I come upon a mix of impressions and feelings, encountering – in the following order – “Shakespeare in Bari”, a symbol of guilt and justice as if penned by Alessandro Manzoni, an archaeological excavation in the middle of the bustle of the streets, and finally the so-called Turk’s Head, a symbol of resistance against the expansion of Islam in Saracen Bari around 800 AD.

To review them in order: the Arco Meraviglia is a romantic reminiscence of Verona’s tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet, but this time with a happy ending. Here, too, the story is about two young lovers whose love affair is to be put to an end by the girl’s family, which leads the young man’s father to construct this stone bridge in a single night, to connect the two lovers who live in houses opposite each other – a small construction marvel that continues to enchant passers-by to this day.

The Colonna Infame, also known as the “Pillar of Justice”, was used in the 12th century as a public pillory for defaulting debtors. Its stone lion surveys the entire Piazza Mercantile, and it is visible from far away. Finding the Turk’s Head – the Testa del Turco – requires a bit more effort. This bust of the Saracen warrior Muffarag is positioned over an arch in the Strada Quercia 10.

In fact, it’s so well concealed I’m obliged to make enquiries of the nice lady standing at the nearby window, who has clearly become suspicious about my wandering up and down. But perhaps the most impressive view I encounter is in the remains of an ancient church amid the old town houses surrounding the Piazza Santa Maria del Buon Consiglio. It’s fun watching children slaloming bicycles and tricycles between the Roman pillars, Corinthian capitals and marble floor mosaics.

Bari Vecchia not only looks back on a millennium of history, the Museo Civico shows the city from a very lively side. It’s a place for cultural exchange, playing host to numerous cultural projects. The museum presents the city’s history and culture in many different exhibitions, including photographs from the collection of Liborio Antonelli Matteucci (“Bari of the 19th and 20th centuries” and “Apulian Soldiers from the Era of the Great War”, to name just a few). The range of exhibits even encompasses caricatures by Frate Menotti.

Fiera del Levante. Bari
Levante Fair

I wander a bit further along Bari’s cultural tracks and pay a visit to the Galleria Doppelgaenger, currently hosting some exhibitions of the most interesting contemporary art and – perhaps somewhat paradoxically – housed in an historic palazzo in the Via Verrone 8.

The Galleria Doppelgaenger revels in the experimental, and in the indefatigable search for fresh art treasures. It exhibits a very wide variety of contemporary art forms, especially street art – a type of art that has garnered scant academic attention to date.

Galleria Doppleagaenger. Bari
Doppleagaenger gallery

Bari’s true greatness is evident in such small things. Cities built by the sea are always fascinating.

Via Goffredo di Crollanza. Bari
Araldo di Crollalanza promenade
Puglia Design Store. Spazio Murat. Bari
Puglia Design Store, Spazio Murat

Bari’s true greatness is evident in such small things. Cities built by the sea are always fascinating. When, in Bari’s case, a medieval jewel was created here on the Mediterranean, however, things become truly magical. Austere Romanesque architecture forms a counterpoint to hidden modernity and Byzantine edifices.

The different architectural styles together form the pulsing heart of Apulia’s capital. A city where art is not simply there to be admired but also merges with its inhabitants’ lives. It’s simply wonderful to lose oneself in these enchanting surroundings.

di Valerio Stefanori

Ruins of Santa Maria del Buon Consiglio

other itineraries

  • the traveller

  • the socialite

  • the storyteller

  • the sporty type