Monday, October 20, 2008

Day 7: Trani

The weather is overcast this morning…lots of clouds over the water that we see from our window. The breakfast room in the hotel is exceptionally bright and cheery and the breakfast is very good also. Our first stop is the cathedral which is right outside the hotel door. The Trani cathedral has the most striking location…..set on a wide piazza just on the water’s edge. The cathedral is taller than most because it is built on top of two older churches. Entering from the side, we first go down to the low-ceilinged crypt which contains the remains of Trani’s patron saint–San Nicola Pellegrino–and some old frescoes on the ceiling.
Upstairs, the main space is quite restrained….no wall decorations but many handsome columns, graceful rose windows, some lively floor mosaics and the original carved bronze doors now displayed inside.
Outside in the piazza, the view of the front of the cathedral is very impressive….especially with the Adriatic Sea as background.
Apulia_trani cathedral.jpg
Let me digress and talk about Trani. Trani has a very unique layout….the port is almost completely enclosed and there are restaurant and shops on one side of the harbor. The cathedral is on the end of one side of the harbor, along with a number of government buildings; the same side is also is home to the fishing fleet. On the other side of the harbor is a new hotel and one of the nicest public parks in all of Italy….beautifully kept, attractively planted with pathways, benches, a playground and three sides that are directly on the water. The “centro storico” is crammed in between the cathedral, the waterfront and the modern town with narrow streets and attractive white buildings. The very appealing modern town starts at the end of the harbor and stretches for blocks inland. And to the southeast, there is a long stretch where the road out of town hugs the waterfront and is lined with hotels and apartments.

Here is the link to a Google map showing Trani’s harbor and “centro storico”.

Trani also has a historic Jewish connection. It was a center of Jewish learning and up to the 12 century, there were about 200 families and four synagogues. When we visited here seven years ago, two of the churches in the “centro” were identified as having formerly been synagogues. I had read that two of the churches had been deconsecrated and that there were plans to restore them as historic synagogues and Jewish centers…even though no Jews are left in Trani. I had also read about a restaurant that served Mediterranean-style food with an emphasis on Jewish recipes. I wanted to return to Trani to see how these plans were coming along as well as because we had liked Trani so much.

In any case, the plans have not progressed too far although there is construction going on at the Scolanova and there is a Jewish star on the top of building. And the restaurant is no longer serving “Jewish” food on a regular basis…only when there is a Jewish event in town.

Even so, Trani is a very appealing destination…:)

We spend some time in the public park, walking around and sitting looking at the water…on this Thursday morning, it is quite busy with mothers and children, old men sitting on benches, joggers, tourists and students. It is still as beautiful and pleasant as we had remembered….a very good respite from the “hard work” of sightseeing.




We have a quick lunch at one of the bars on the harbor and then get in the car to explore the countryside above Trani. The expedition is fraught with touristic mishaps however. Our first stop is at Cannae, the sight of a battle where Hannibal crushed the Roman legions during one of the Punic Wars. However, when we arrive the site and the museum are both closed….another “in restauro” experience. We make a short detour to the town of Canosa di Puglia but the historic sites there don’t seem particularly striking to us and the town is not very attractive either.

The most interesting thing about our expedition is seeing the fields stretching out as far as the eye can see filled with either olive groves or vineyards or both. Once in a while, there is a small peach orchard….but it is not hard to believe that Puglia produces most of Italy’s olive oil and alot of wine. The cultivation goes on for miles as we climb onto the plateau called La Murgia. Once on the plateau, the topography changes dramatically…this appears to be wheat country and there is not a olive tree or grape vine to be seen. One other interesting part of the expedition is our drive through Minervino Murgia…this hill town seems to appear abruptly out of the plateau and looks like a sheer face of houses just rising in front of us.


We drive to the top of the town and head back down to Trani on a different road…but one that is just as heavily cultivated as the one we drove up on.

One last stop before we head back to Trani…..Barletta, another port town on the Adriatic about 10 miles northwest of Trani. We take a short stroll through the “centro storico” and pop in to the duomo. But even at 5 pm, many of the shops are still not open so the town is very quiet. We do drive past one of the town’s tourist attractions, the Colossus of Barletta–a 20 foot high statue of a Roman general (no one is quite sure who it is) that is located right in the middle of the sidewalk of a busy street.


Dinner is at da Miana, the restaurant that was written up as serving “Jewish food”. At 8:15 pm, we are the first customers (in fact, only one other table is occupied by the time we leave at 10 pm). The host is very charming and, since we are the only customers, spends a lot of time with us. We have the da Miano special antipasto…three hot dishes–a red mullet in a sauce under a piece of pastry, fried shrimp in a crust of almonds (a bit too heavy on the almonds) and terrine with anchovies. Very inventive dishes and very good……No pasta tonight; instead a delicately prepared “fritto misto” for me and an excellent tagliata–steak cooked rare garnished with parmigiano-reggiano for Diana.

We have a pleasant stroll back to the hotel through the quiet streets of the old town. Tomorrow we explore Bari, the largest city in Puglia and a town with a “reputation”.


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