Bari is… viscerally Italian.
If you’re travelling in the south of Italy or taking the ferry across the Adriatic to the Balkans, you will in all likelihood pass through Bari, or find you have some time to kill there. The second biggest city in the south after Naples, Bari is known as La Perla d’Apulia (The Pearl of Apulia), and while some cynics may quibble as to whether it really deserves the title, it’s worth making the most of what it has to offer nonetheless.
Bari is the capital of the Puglia region and is also a port city, so if you’re in that part of the world there’s a high chance you’ll end up seeing it! (Photographer: Mike Sowden; Flickr)
One plus point of Bari is that you can comfortably see everything in a day — or even an afternoon. So if you arrive at the train station at 11am and you’ve got to be at the ferry port at 7pm, you won’t feel like you’re missing out. It’s also a good base from which to take day trips, if you’re staying in Puglia a bit longer.
I’ve lived in Bari for seven months now, and as my time here comes to an end, here is my list of worthwhile sights and experiences.
Bari Vecchia (Old Town)
One of my favourite things is to bimble through the streets of the Old Town, people-watching. Bari Vecchia is almost exclusively Italian — no holiday homes, no expats, just the odd Italian-run B&B. Barese people, incredibly loyal to their nationality and their city, can seem a bit aloof, with a ‘them and us’ mentality, but it’s mostly just a front. While you’re unlikely to feel like one of their own, neither are they at all hostile. Remove the Barese from Bari Vecchia and it’d just be another pretty Italian Old Town, full of tourists taking photos. Women gather outside their homes on plastic chairs to chat and keep an eye on the children as they play in the streets, grandmothers grill fish on open coals, and old men gossip together on street corners. It’s only a small town and it’s fairly easy to re-orientate yourself if you take a wrong turn. Get pleasantly lost.
Explore the Old Town’s winding streets and let yourself lose your way. (Photographer: Nicola; Flickr)
Just inside the entrance to the Old Town (off Corso Vittorio Emmanuele) is the Museo Civico. Spend half an hour or so in here learning about the history of the town and looking at paintings and photos of Bari in the past. On the second floor, there are recreations of 10th century traditional dress, which they bring out for the festival of San Nicola (Bari’s patron saint) in early May. It’s also a good idea to make use of the toilets here!
Reduced entry: €1.50