TODAY was a distinct change of pace after the bustling cities of Lecce, Bari and Matera on our first three days.
The journey from Matera to Castel Del Monte took us through a different landscape. We had become used to driving past row upon row upon row of olive trees. Apparently, there are more than 30 million of them in Puglia. I wouldn’t like to have the job of counting them. Imagine losing count and having to start again.
Now we drove along quiet country roads that climbed up into rough hill country. After an hour we spied Castel Del Monte on the horizon. It glowed warmly in the morning sun.
We are used to the sight of castles in Wales; they’re almost as plentiful as Puglian olive groves. But Welsh castles look menacing and formidable war machines; battleships of the crag and cliff.
By contrast, Castel Del Monte looked like a 1930s Hollywood set designer’s idea of a castle. I could imagine any self-respecting invader having a quiet chuckle before firing off his first siege engine. I mean, it doesn’t even have a moat or drawbridge. They may as well have put out the Welcome mat and had done with it.
Another of Emperor Frederick II’s efforts, Castel Del Monte has a unique octagonal lay-out, with an octagonal tower at each corner. Despite my reservations about its effectiveness as a citadel, it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1996.
We moved on to the seaport of Trani, which is about 40 kilometres north-west of Bari.
The main focal point is the cathedral, which is dedicated to St Nicholas, but not in this case the St Nick of Santa Claus fame, but another Nicholas, the Pilgrim. The cathedral has a commanding position on a raised, open site near the sea.
But we found the life of the sea port the most interesting part of our visit. While tourism is obviously important, this was clearly still a working port which provided a living for many of the men of the town.