Monday, September 22, 2014

PUGLIA & THE HEEL OF ITALY

Polignano a Mare
Main square old town
Italy is shaped like a high heeled boot and Polignano a Mare is at the top of the heel. It is a quaint town perched on a cliff dotted with sea caves.  A bridge spans a deep ravine that cuts through the city.  A small, pristine beach is at the mouth of the ravine.  It is believed that Polignano a Mare was part of ancient Greece, and the old town indicates Greek influences as well as Spanish and Byzantine.

Polignano's narrow streets
Domenico Modugno
Poignana Mare ravine & beach
With its narrow cobblestone streets, charming old town and sea caves, Polignano a Mare has become a popular tourist destination, and its economy depends heavily on it.  Polignano a Mare also proudly claims Domenico Modugno -- singer-songwriter most famous for "Volare" -- as its native son. 
Santa Croce

Typical ornate interior of Lecce's churches

Our next stop, Lecce, has been called The Florence of the South thanks to an abundance of Baroque palaces and churches. 

Baroque architecture began in the late 16th century and was as far removed from the simple churches we recently saw as possible.  The style is very ornate and theatrical and was meant to signify the triumph and power of the Catholic Church.  Some thought Lecce the most beautiful city in Italy while Marchese Grimaldi said the facade of Santa Croce made him think a lunatic was having a nightmare. Though Lecce was once a very important city in Italy, it doesn't seem possible that they ever had enough people to fill the 40 churches that are often just around the corner from one another.  
Fountain outside Charles V Palace


Duomo, Bishop's Palace & seminary
Bell tower
2nd century amphitheater
Lecce's cathedral was built in the 12th century. Several hundred years later, the Bishop's Palace, a seminary and a tower over 200 feet high were added.  It was in this square that the townspeople would gather during an attack because there was only one narrow entrance, easy to defend.  

Otranto
In 1901, construction workers discovered a 2nd century amphitheater underneath the main piazza.

Enticed by the pictures, we moved on to a resort in Otranto.  While the grounds and sea were gorgeous, the rooms were the worst we have ever been in.  Small, dark and dingy. Fortunately, we were able to cut our stay from 5 days to 2 and extended our stay in the next town, Castellaneta Marina on the Ionian Sea.  It was like going from hell to heaven.  One of the perks of traveling in the shoulder or off season is that you often receive an upgrade. 
Kalidria pool
Kalidria Hotel and grounds

Kalidria
At Kalidria Thalasso Spa Resort, we were upgraded to a suite with a large living room and balcony. 

This is our last stop in the province of Puglia.  Now we drive across the country -- what would be the arch of the boot -- to the west coast of Italy.