ROCKY CHURCHES, GOD’S CAVES

It is also possible to go on a small tour of the coastal area of Monopoli even though the most fascinating experience is a trip through the countryside. It is advisable to go with an expert guide to make sure you don’t get lost. In the fishing village you cannot miss the visit to Madonna del Soccorso, the most accessible of the churches carved into the rocks and frescoed, like the crypt of Santa Maria degli Amalfitani (with St Nicola and scenes of miracles), San Matteo dell’Arena or the monastery of San Leonardo, also called Sant’Angelo De Graecis (also known as San Benedetto or San Cipriano). Under the library Prospero Rendella there is San Nicola in Portu Aspero also called San Clemente. It is no coincidence that in the past Monopoli was called “The city of burrows”. What made it unique were the rocky churches around the canal-harbour covered in sand by the Normans. The rocky churches in the countryside have an additional attraction with their rural farmhouses, stables, mills, depositories, houses and cemeteries, all carved into soft tuff rocks typical of the plateau of olive trees. The rocky churches are independent and are not crypts belonging to others churches.

Tempo richiesto
3 h

Grado di accessibilità
Medio

Area
centro e agro

Mezzo
Auto, bici

Madonna del soccorso

The proper church is 6 metres under the Carbineers barracks (the former Dominican Convent). Before entering, it is worth stopping and looking up: you will see the christogram. It was the first Christian symbol legitimized by the Roman Emperor Constantine and stamped on coins and military banners. It has a clear oriental origin, but also has the Greek letters “χ” and “ρ”, initials of the word “unto” (khristòs in Greek). On its sides there is also the first letter of the Greek alphabet, a capital alpha (A) and the last one, the lowercase omega (ω), because Jesus is the beginning and the end as the Apocalypse reports (John, verses 1:8, 21:6 and 22:13). Above it there is the sculptural group called “Family of donors”. It’s a bas-relief granted to the sculptor Stefano da Putignano (1470-1540) who embodied the rebirth of sculptural art in Puglia using painted stones. It represents a child holding a shelf and on its sides two people kneeling, one male and one female. In the middle, a recently added metal crown, a sculptural element dating back to 1517, more likely a salvaged element of the ancient church of Santa Maria La Nova alle Fontanelle destroyed in the 16th century probably during the siege of Marchese del Vasto (1528-1529). It was probably an element of the sculptural group “Madonna Enthroned with Child” which is now placed in the highest part of the façade of the church of San Domenico. This triptych even enchanted the famous art critic Vittorio Sgarbi during his visits to the town. In a room underground, you will find a baroque altar, an element clearly added in the eighteenth century because the origins of this churchis bi-apsidal. The original entrance is still recognisable on the left wall. However, we are talking about times when the church stuck out over a tuff bank near the sea and was called San Pietro de Trochata (de Troccia or Troccica) as the papal bull of Pope Alexander III reports. In fact, a little window on the right hand side shone light on the Byzantine apse (bema).

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  • Learn more about rupestrian church Madonna del soccorso

    Nel 1054 (e non 1049 come riportato da una certa storiografia) venne dato l’ordine dal normanno Ugo Toute Bone per esigenze difensive di provvedere all’insabbiamento del “porto canale”. Affinché i greci bizantini non potessero più entrare nel porto e nel cuore della città per conquistarla. Era affiancato da case grotta di pescatori e chiese sulle sue sponde che si addentravano fino al largo Vescovado. Lo spazio della Madonna del soccorso è ben delineato e testimonia ancora oggi la grande perizia dello scavo del monaco magister. Tra i dipinti parietali si riconosce l’immagine di san Paolo, e una Madonna con Bambino con vele crociate sullo sfondo che la gente chiama del soccorso perché a lei affidano le loro preghiere le pie mogli dei marinai. Già nel Cinquecento si sa che un’effige della Vergine qui dispensava grazie e miracoli. Questa chiesa servì insieme a Sant’Angelo de Burgo, per celebrare messa mentre veniva costruita la vicina chiesa di San Domenico e già aveva cambiato il nome in Madonna del Soccorso. L’attuale affresco con vele crociate, per sua stessa ammissione, venne scoperto nell’estate del 1965 al termine di una messa di suffragio in quell’antica chiesa rupestre, dalla pittrice Anna Brigida che liberò l’attuale affresco da una crosta Seicentesca, forse un dipinto a tempera che versava in rovina. L’attuale affresco è una chiara trasposizione speculare alla maniera latina (XII-XIII secolo) dell’icona della Madonna della Madia conservata in Cattedrale.

Madonna della Stella

From the road running past the 19th-century cemetery it is possible to see two important cave churches. The first is Madonna della Stella, accessible from a secondary road on the right of the main street, 600 metres after the cemetery, follow the signs and the road on the left. The church is open on Saturdays from morning to evening and every day during May. The entrance is 2 metres lower than road level. When you go down, you can see on the right the ancient stairway carved into the rock. Once you enter, you will notice a single rectangular room with 3 altars. On the left the Holy Spirit and on the right the seventeenth-eighteenth century fresco of the Madonna della Stella.

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  • Approfondisci chiesa rupestre Madonna della Stella

    Il monolite con l’affresco, destinato oggi a sacrestia, testimonia il tentativo di sfondamento ulteriore della cavità sotterranea e ancora si notano i colpi di piccone e i segni caratteristici di conci di tufi estratti dalla parete e forse utilizzati all’interno stesso della struttura. Prima della sua modernizzazione l’ingresso doveva essere dalla parete sinistra oggi occlusa e che nasconde l’accesso a un altro vano sotterraneo. Il soffitto, oscurato dal fumo nero delle candele, testimonia il culto mariano ancora vivo in questo ambiente. Il pavimento è d’inizio Novecento, in pastina di cemento. Gli altari sono ottocenteschi confermano l’evoluzione che lo spazio liturgico ha maturato dal medioevo ad oggi. Sono scomparse le tracce più antiche che rimandano a quelle poche e sbiadite di un affresco sull’unica colonna laterale. Tutto rimanda all’unico affresco ben conservato, quella della Madonna con Bambino, detta “della stella”, protetta da una teca in vetro, custodita sull’altare centrale e che dà il nome alla chiesa oltre a testimoniare l’importanza del culto mariano qui in zona. Era completamente ricoperta di collanine e anelli d’oro frutto di antichi ex voto purtroppo trafugati alle fine degli anni ’90.

Spirito santo

Continuing along the cemetery road and shortly before the state road 16, you will find an entrance with two stone columns leading to the door of a unique rocky church. The Holy Spirit is the church in the medieval hamlet Don Angelo, where the church was Byzantine with probably only one apsidal room, and with the entrance at the opposite side to where it is today.
Some changes were made when the Normans arrived, such as cap vaults which reproduce the crypt of a Roman church into the tuff and maybe that of the then cathedral of Monopoli when Romualdo was bishop. It’s one of the few rocky churches where its charming decorations and architecture remain unchanged. Until the procession of Pentecost (fiftieth in Greek), every Thursday, for 50 days after Easter, the rosary is prayed after a pilgrimage on foot of prayer and penitence, with people sometimes kneeling and eating bitter herbs. The Holy Spirit is thus a mystic place to pray, made up of mostly women who once wore black. The closeness to the cemetery, the cult of rosary and Pentecost made this church among the most popular in the area, inhabited since the Bronze Age, repopulated in the late Roman age or early medieval confirming that this corner of Monopoli has the same value as an eternal city, with houses, depositories and cisterns for water.

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  • Approfondisci chiesa rupestre Spirito Santo

    Lo Spirito Santo più che una chiesa è una vera e propria basilica rupestre, scavata con perizia tecnica davvero unica. L’aula sacra è suddivisa in tre navate, scandite da 4 colonne e 2 pilastri sui quali poggiano archi a tutto sesto che delimitano 12 campate con volta a crociera. Mancano 2 colonne di appoggio della crociera davanti all’altare. Di fattura modesta, ma originale, sono le colonne con capitello provvisto di collarino, crochet a foglie arrotondate o con rilievi di figure umane e abaco. L’icnografia dell’ipogeo è alquanto singolare, infatti sull’aula basilicale s’innesta, nella zona del presbiterio, un altro ambiente che all’insieme conferisce una pianta a “L”. Segno che la chiesa ha avuto bisogno nel corso dei tempi di più ampliamenti per accogliere sempre più fedeli. È interessante notare come l’attuale scalinata d’ingresso è seguita, sul lato sinistro, da un sedile litoide scanalato con funzione di convogliare e far defluire l’acqua. La chiesa è diventata di proprietà comunale a seguito della donazione effettuata dai fratelli Grattagliano. È stata restaurata nel 2011 grazie alla Fondazione San Domenico e alla Cassa di Risparmio di Puglia. Alle pareti, sul lato destro della chiesa rupestre, in 3 ampi archi ciechi traspare il volto di due santi anonimi con i piedi dalle dita affusolate, che facevano parte del corredo parietale originario dell’ipogeo. Nella nicchia centrale, dietro le tende, si notano tracce di raffigurazione, molto deteriorate, con un fedele adorante. Altra figura appena visibile è quella di un Santo monaco con barba. Gli altri due dipinti, la Madonna in trono con Bambino, sull’altare frontale alle navate, ridipinta forse su una icona precedente, e il Cristo in croce con in basso quelle che sembrano le anime del Purgatorio. Oltre al Cristo in croce è riconoscibile il Padre eterno e lo Spirito Santo. Un dipinto devozionale a giudicare dalla scritta che è alla base in cui si riconoscono le date che vanno dal 22 maggio 1800 al 1920.

San Giorgio

Along the royal road of the Postman which connected the Salento area to Bari, there is the only rocky church so close to the sea and to a part of via Traiana. We are very close to the beach of Porto Giardino, shortly before Capitolo. It hides a carved space but with no frescos. Anyway, the outside façade is the more interesting part, a series of particularly impressive hypnotizing concentric circles towards the central oculus which represents God’s eye watching over the road which leads to Egnazia. Stonemasons have reproduced a Romanesque rose window in the rock just as if the church had been built and not carved.
Nobody knows if the church was dedicated to a saint, but experts have called it San Giorgio like the close defensive tower now in ruins. The arch above the entrance is a kind of narthex, a symbol of repentance and punishment, placed for protecting catechumens who couldn’t follow the Eucharistic liturgy.

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Paterno e Lamalunga

Continuing south bound on the state road 16, near Contrada L’Assunta, you will find the hamlet of Paterno and the church della Trinità with its destroyed walls. The Lamalunga road will take you to the rock settlement of Lamalunga. The rocky church of Sant’Avenzio is carved into a hidden tuff spur on the left side of the hamlet, which was mostly demolished around the mid-1980’s in order to plant an olive grove. It’s a little chapel with a single nave divided into shrine and bema by an iconostasis carved in the tuff. Inside there are frescoes depicting San Nicola, San Filippo and San Lorenzo or Santo Stefano and San Vito. At the entrance there are two scenes welcome visitors: the Annunciation and the Madonna enthroned. The Deesis is very interesting, depicting the Virgin and San Giovanni Battista who is praying to Christ Pantocrator, placed in the arcosolium of the apse with two deacons with the Gospel in their hands with the inscription: «Ego sum Lux Mundi…» (I am the light of the world) on its sides.

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San Andrea e San Procopio

To reach the rock settlement of San Andrea and San Procopio, you have to travel along the bypass of the state road 16 on the sea side. A dirt road on the right after the railway line, leads to a red nineteenth-century house known as Masseria Rosati. The rocky church is owned by the family who live in the farm, so you need to ask them the permission to visit it, which is considered to be the cathedral of the local rock churches because of its internal architecture and its façade with three different entrances. The distinctive trait is the epigraph of the façade sculpted by presbyter Redelberto. One can read on it that the little hypogeous temple was sculpted by Giovanni, master manufacturer and deacon, helped by his son, the presbyter Giacinto. The church was dug thanks to the will of some noble owners, Giovanni, abbot Alfano, Pietro and Paolo. The permit was granted by Pietro, bishop of Monopoli (between 1071 and 1076) and the church was consecrated on the 2nd of November and dedicated to St Andrew Apostle and martyr Procopius, a western saint and an eastern saint curiously together in a Bizantyne church just a few decades after the schism between the Eastern and Western churches (1054). It could be an isolated witness of a unanimous will to mend a liturgical rift whose echo has arrived up to the present day. The cult for San Procopio da Cesarea is very interesting, who was the first martyr of Palestine under Diocletian in 303 A.D.

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  • Approfondisci chiesa rupestre San Andrea e San Procopio

    Andrea apostolo fu pescatore come suo fratello Pietro. È il protocletos, ossia il primo chiamato. Fu discepolo di san Giovanni battista e poi di Gesù. Molto venerato in Occidente. La chiesa è a doppia navata, biabsidata con una imponente iconostasi litoide e doppio transetto, che divide il naos dai claustra e dal bema. Gli affreschi sono leggibili e di buona fattura. Iniziando da destra troverai, sopra l’ingresso di un ambiente secondario, il san Giorgio a cavallo con scudo crociato. Nell’area cosiddetta del claustra troviamo sant’Eligio (588-606), santo francese, protettore degli orafi, dei numismatici e in questo caso evocato dai maniscalchi in quanto a lato vi è ritratto un ferro di cavallo e un cavallo, animali importanti per viaggiare e per lavorare. Poi un affresco dei santi Cosma e Damiano, mentre preparano le medicine, ci riporta a un culto antico ancora vivo in città. Sulle pareti del bema, la zona dell’altare in pietra, ci sono scene di Annunciazione, Deesis e Trinità, Crocifissione, san Leonardo, Madonna in trono tra santi, e infine i santi Pietro e Paolo, con chiavi e spada. Sicuramente, doveva trattarsi di un importante centro monastico o addirittura di un santuario, in funzione dell’importante casale circostante circondato da frantoi, depositi e case grotta. L’ingresso principale, sormontato da un sorta di oblò-lucernaio, era probabilmente utilizzato solo per le festività solenni. La due entrate laterali erano quelle di uso comune. Quella di destra abbozza in un arco cieco una sorta di porta a falsa bifora.

Events in Monopoli

The “European Heritage Days” (EHD) are back
21 September 2022

Monopoli’s Cultural Assessor, Rosanna Perricci, will join the European Heritage Days (EHD) on Saturday 24/09 and Sunday 25/09, the biggest and…

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Panorama Monopoli A city-wide exhibition curated by Vincenzo de Bellis 1 – 4 September 2022
23 August 2022

ITALICS is the first consortium in Italy to bring together over sixty of the most authoritative galleries of ancient, modern and…

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PhEST 2022 – first advances
13 July 2022

PhEst – See Beyond the Sea, once again finds great success among those, who for study, hobby and work, have an…

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Ritratti Music Festival – 18th edition
8 July 2022

Nine concerts in places of great charm in the name of kindness and beauty SOUNDS AND SPACES Music that builds bridges,…

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Inside Warhol. The exhibition from June 22nd at Castello Carlo V
1 July 2022

“Inside Andy Warhol” is coming!  An Apulian that holds an amazing history, is going to host a selection of original artworks,…

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Starting from July 1st Monopoli’s main churches will be open to the public
29 June 2022

This year, thanks to the local authority for arts and entertainment, Rosanna Perricci, and to the local authority for tourism, Cristian…

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