THEMIS-Culture wh

The port

Sailing in a southerly direction down the Adriatic, almost halfway down the coast of Puglia, you come across the charming and picturesque town of Monopoli, ready and waiting for the discerning traveller to cast their eyes upon the wonderful things that it has to offer. Its coastline stretches for thirteen kilometres and offers 32 natural coves interspersed with beautiful sandy beach resorts and clifftops overlooking the sea.
Testimony to the fear of a Turkish invasion in the sixteenth century stand the four coastal watchtowers, used to transmit warning signals through the lighting of fire beacons; the luminous message of fire could travel the long distance to alert the nearest military garrison.
In the rural hinterland, the fortified farmhouses imitate the same style of architecture as the watchtowers, replicating their defensive and military functions. The port is defended from the powerful winds that blow from the northwest by the 600-metre-long harbour wall of the Tramontana dock and to the south by the Margherita dock.
The two stretches of sea enclose an area of 59,000 square meters. Crossing the 200-metre-long entrance, the towering Castle of Charles V comes into sight and to its left, the old port dotted with ‘gozzi’, small rowboats used for offshore fishing. A triumph of pointed arches dominates the neo-Gothic loggia of the eighteenth-century Palazzo Martinelli.
Continuing your journey around the port basin, you run into the ‘Banchina Solfatara’ the hub for the comings and goings of the trawlers which anchor there. Further around is ‘Cala Batteria’, which takes its name from its sixteenth-century function as a heavy artillery station; past the ‘Punta del Tonno’ you enter ‘Cala Fontanelle’, where pleasure boats bob gently in the sea. Finally, after the ‘Punte del Trave’, the small ‘Cala Curatori’ opens up, which still bears traces of the traditional industriousness of the city’s shipyards.

The old town

Walking through the archway, which leads off the Banchina Solfatara into Piazza Garibaldi, starts a journey that ventures into the Old town. Something which immediately catches the eye is Palazzo Rendella. Built as a ‘casa erema’ in the sixteenth century and paid for by the town’s citizens at a price of 40,000 ducats the so called ‘barracks’ had the function of housing Spanish soldiers, previously billeted in the local Monopolitan homes in objective situations of promiscuity and discomfort.
The building later became the seat of the town’s municipal administration, and from 1839 to 1910 the structure became the local theatre. Declared unsafe in 1910 the building was closed only to reopen in 1958, after its renovation. Since then the structure has been home to the town’s beautiful civic library, a fundamental and cultural graft onto the social fabric of the city.

The present-day ‘Sala dei pescatori’ or ‘Fisherman’s Hall’ on the ground floor serves as testimony to the fish market which stood there from 1940 to 1991 and where the ritual fish auction took place to sell the fruits of the daily catch from the returning fishing vessels. The echo of haggling and voices of the fishermen themselves become immortalised in the hall through an exhibition of photos, which were part of the first edition of the PhEST photography festival and accredited to photographer Piero Martinello.

Following Via Amalfitana, you pass the Church of St Maria degli Amalfitani, the only religious building in the urban fabric which bears traces of important Romanesque sculpture and architecture.

In addition to the church, being converted to baroque style in 1772, it underwent further restoration work in the 1930’s, following an initiative on the part of Carlo Ceschi the then superintendent of monuments for Puglia, restoration work was carried out to restore its former Romanesque features.

The crypt preceded by a sepulchre consisting of two apsis features two central pillars inserted after the original construction. Tradition has it that the realization of the basilian crypt was the result of an initiative by Amalfi merchants in devotion to the Virgin Mary after having survived a shipwreck.

Crossing Vico Gesuiti which flanks its namesake building, you come to via Garibaldi the former via dei Mercanti, which terminates in Largo Plebiscito, in front of the church of St. Francis of Assisi and the former convent annex which is now the seat of the Town Hall.

The Franciscan building dates back to 1749 and is the work of Michele Colangiuli of Acquaviva. The beautiful facade is embellished with half pilasters and decorated from the portal to the upper fastigium. On the inside, in the candour of the decoration in stucco by Carlo Cassino are the alternating side chapels.

A wooden crucifix on the presbytery immediately stands out due to its expressive power; sources say that the trunk of the figure emerged from the ruins of a building. Over the altar, a painting celebrates The Glory of the Order. The first chapel on the right houses an altarpiece attributed to the school of Bassano, featuring St. John the Baptist and saints Gregory and Leonardo, and the statuesque body of the Virgin with Child, affiliated to the school of the sculptor Stefano da Putignano.


Largo Plebiscito merges with Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, commonly known as ‘il Borgo’ by the local Monopolitans. After the maze of narrow streets of the old town, the spaciousness of the square introduces the new face taken on by the city at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, under the pressure of an increasingly enterprising and industrious bourgeoisie. Positioned to the west, behind the line of the old city wall it serves as a watershed between the old town and the borgo murattiano (The district takes its name from Joachim Murat, who began its construction, during his rule at the head of the Kingdom of Naples) It is almost a perfect square of an area of 22,000 square meters. Around its perimeter is a double row of Hollyoaks planted in 1893

The ‘borgo’ or piazza is formed of two rectangles crossed by a fifteen-metre-wide avenue. Initially, at the end of the eighteenth century, engineers Sorino and De Simone proposed the idea of a portico; however, the cost of the project proved too expensive and therefore, was rejected. On the left as you leave Largo Plebiscito, is a War Memorial which commemorates the towns, 300 victims of World War I., It dates back to 1928 and is the work of Simone di Brindisi. A stop in the Borgo Murattiano allows you to walk around a grid of straight streets while admiring the portals, coats of arms and balconies.

Returning to Largo Plebiscito and heading in the direction of Via San Domenico, you arrive at the church dedicated to the saint of Guzman. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, buildings destroyed by artillery fire in April 1528 at the behest of Andrea Gritti the then commander of the Venetian garrison, were rebuilt behind the city walls to prevent them falling into the hands of the Spanish. As a result, the 14th-century Dominican church of Santa Maria Della Nova was razed to the ground. The subsequent reconstruction of the present-day church of St Dominic features a majestic facade with several elegant and refined frames, carvings and precious sculpted images.

The intricate work of the rose window stands out like a Romanesque echo. In the tympanum stands a sculptural group of the enthroned Madonna with child, a feature from the previous building and one credited to Stefano da Putignano. The eye is naturally guided along the vertical axis to complete the Christological theme with the sculptural groups of the Passion and the Resurrection. Above the rose- window stands the figure of St Dominic giving his blessing, while on the sides of the facade are placed statues of the theological virtues of Fortitude and Temperance.

The interior clearly shows the influence of Leccese baroque from the late sixteenth century in the setting and the decoration. The side chapels were added at the request of local aristocratic families between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Whereas, the magnificent painting, which portrays Saint Peter the martyr by Giovanni Bellini, commissioned for the original church of Santa Maria Della Nova. Now hangs in the Provincial Art Gallery in Bari.

Another important work that was once a feature of the original church now hangs in the diocesan museum and is the Miracle of Soriano by Jacopo Palma the Younger it also highlights the influence of Venice and the Venetians on the Levantine town. Notable features of the chapel of the Rosary by Mauro Manieri are; Our Lady of the Rosary between Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine by Cenatiempo and a pleasant eighteenth-century note introduced by the altars in Neapolitan polychrome marble.

Leaving the church and continuing your journey, you reach the Crypt of the Madonna del Soccorso. Your attention is immediately drawn to the three statues on the entrance door to the hypogeum, preciously carved by the famous Renaissance artist Stefano da Putignano, they depict a boy between two figures in prayer. Without doubt, they came from the church of Santa Maria Della Nova and thus spared from the Spanish army cannons.

Access to the crypt is by a steep staircase that descends six meters below street level.   Originally an ancient harbour channel the square vault presents two naves divided by columns and terminating in two apses. Noteworthy is the fresco of the enthroned Madonna with child which dates to the fifteenth century.


Returning to the tour, you continue along the gently sloping road until you reach Piazza Manzoni, site of the bishop’s palace. Passing through a little arcade, you arrive at the church square of the Baroque Cathedral/Basilica Cattedrale di Maria Santissima della Madia the elegant grandeur of the town’s most important place of worship is blinding. The final plans for the project by engineers Magarella of Molfetta and Colangiuli of Acquaviva were submitted on 3rd December 1741 and building work finished on 12th August 1772.

The main facade is divided into two orders and is rendered three dimensional by the curved profile and by two lateral volutes, surmounted by flaming torches in soft stone. The surface is divided into three parts by semi-columns with composite capitals. In the first order, there are three portals; the main one projects forward with two columns on rotated plinths supporting an interrupted bezel. The upper order features an elegant window, which accompanies the line of sight towards the pediment, on which stands the coat of arms of Maria with a letter A inscribed in a letter M.

The wind façade extends higher than the top of the naves expanding the volume of the façade with an effect of pomp and grandeur. The church square overlooks the bulk of the episcopal palace that dialogues with the baroque geometries of the Cathedral, located opposite. An external wall completed in 1786 by the architect Palmieri houses a series of busts depicting the saints, works by Ludovico Fiorentino which were originally features of the central chapel of the church before its reconstruction in the baroque style in 1742.

Three naves inside the basilica are marked by two rows of composite pillars in a geometric setting to provide a central position for the sacred Byzantine Icon of Our Lady with Child (Madonna della Madia), displayed for the adoration of the faithful in the chapel behind the presbytery at a height of 6 metres. The side windows and the central dome allow the light to reveal the veins and colours of the polychrome marbles, which richly cover the architecture. Along the right nave the series of side chapels begins with the ‘Armadio delle travi’ namely the chapel of beams, which preserves the 31 beams that made up the raft that, on the night of the 16th of December 1117, arrived at the port carrying the icon.

The chapel of St Michael contains a painting by Jacopo Palma the Younger, depicting the expulsion of the rebel angels dating back to 1621. Saint Michael the Archangel, with hieratic firmness raises his sword against Lucifer, banished into the eternal fire of hell together with his rebellious feathered followers. From above the Trinity observes the scene. The forces of good and evil are represented with an explicit use of colour divided between the brightness of the archangel and the dark shades of Lucifer and his cohorts.


In the chapel of San Giacomo di Compostella an oil on canvas by Carlo Rosa, portraying the Battle of Clavijo, depicts St James on horseback leading the armies of the Spanish against the Arab non-believers. The painter of Bitonto origin introduced the style of the Caravaggisti to Puglia. The saint in his role as a Matamoros or Slayer of Muslims, in the battle of May 23, 844 A.D. as represented in the work is attributable to an iconography diffused in the fifteenth century as a symbol of the Spanish Reconquista. Legend has it that, in the night before the armed struggle, Ramiro I of Asturias saw the saint in a dream promising his presence at the head of the army and victory against Emir Abd al-Rahman II.

On the right-hand side of the transept, you can find the most monumental of all the chapels, commissioned by the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament in 1755; it displays the pictorial spectacle of a triptych by Francesco De Mura. An oil on canvas represents the Last Supper in agreement with canonical representation. Jesus, placed in the centre of the scene, telling the apostles that there is a traitor among them. The eleven react with a motion of dismay; Judas, on the contrary, holding a bag containing the thirty pieces of silver is depicted as a plump and crude figure dressed in his working clothes those of which reflect his moral vileness. Two smaller canvases continue the theme of sacrifice, the one on the right portrays the sacrifice of Isaac while the one on the left The Supper of Emmaus.

Before climbing the stairs, which lead to the Byzantine icon, you can find the Martyrs’ Chapel, that houses a total of 56 reliquaries containing the relics of saints. Once again, Jacopo Palma, the Younger gives us proof of his unique art in the painting The Madonna in glory with Saints Rocco and Sebastiano.

In eager anticipation, you take the flight of stairs that lead to the chapel which honours the image of the Madonna della Madia, a work that personifies the religious and anthropological identity of the city. The icon sits above an ornate altar in polychrome marble: the Spanish brocatelle alternates with the alabaster, the yellow dialogues with the green. On the sides of the altar emerge from the white marble the statuary bodies of St Joseph with child and St Michael Archangel, of the school of the famous Giuseppe Sammartino.

From the icon flows the magnetic force of the Virgins gaze, her crown of hair sacrificed under a headdress and wearing a maphorion to cover her shoulders and head. Her eyes are directed to the observer to underline the gesture of the hand with sweet firmness, indicating that in that child is the only way of salvation for man. The painting expresses the intimate mystery of the Marian cult in the one who embodies God. She is odegitria or she who indicates the spiritual path through Jesus

The child bears signs of divine royalty in his golden robes, decorated with sunrays and in his mature face immersed in superhuman meditations. He holds a scroll in his hand, a symbol of the Gospel. His feet crossed as if to prefigure martyrdom on the cross. Below, two figures represent a deacon holding a votive candle and an adoring monk.

The name Madonna della Madia first appeared in a document dated 2nd September 1500 and derives from the Spanish word almadia or raft. On the sides of the chapel are two works by Pietro Bardellino. In the first, on the right, you can see in the distance a raft floating out to sea, while in the second, a Christian church is the scene of a bloody massacre at the hands of men in turbans. The historical collocation of the coming of the picture to Monopoli during the iconoclast struggle is, however, is a slight distortion of the facts.


In the canvas featuring the Madia, narrowly escaping foreign fury, we see her arriving at dawn and in front of the unbelieving and benign faithful.

The origin of this great religious devotion is the story of the landing place of the painting carried by sea on a raft. During the Norman domination when Bishop Romuald ruled the fate of the community of the faithful in Monopoli, on the night between 15th  and 16th  December  1117, Mercury, a devout commoner, saw an angel come into his dreams three times, telling him to go to the bishop with a message, All the town’s population had to go to the port in procession.

Only the third attempt by the meek Mercury managed to overcome the understandable, episcopal distrust. When the procession caught sight of the mysterious craft that had touched the shore, they carried the raft and the icon in procession to the Cathedral.  The beams became part of the trussed roof of the Romanesque church which in that year was in the phase of completion.

We leave the basilica admiring the soaring bell tower, built between 1688 and 1693, to replace the previous one, which crashed to the ground in the night between 26th and 27th December 1686, claiming 37 lives. Inspired by Lecce Baroque, the five levels that rise towards the top become progressively smaller. Marking the corners are half pilasters culminating in capitals in the Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian style.

Continuing along via Argento, to your left is the eighteenth-century church of Santa Maria del suffragio, known as Purgatory. The façade bears repeated reference to the theme of death. The jambs and architrave of the entrance portal are populated by skulls and crossed bones that look like sinister glimpses from the beyond. On the carved scrolls are phrases engraved in Latin that you can almost imagine them being uttered by the sculpted dead as ‘Hodie mihi cras tibi’ (today upon me, tomorrow upon you).

The wooden entry doors feature two carved skeletons surrounded by decorative panels that symbolize the social classes, the highest ranks are the aristocratic and ecclesiastical insignia and below the tools of the working classes. A window to the left of the access portal allows you to see some of the so-called standing dead namely the mummified remains of members of the confraternity of Purgatory, dressed in black mozzetta trimmed with red piping and an embroidered red flame. Traditionally the neighbourhood elders greet them, almost in prayer: ‘Good evening to all of you. You have been like us; we will be like you. Good evening to all of you.’


Taking the alley facing the church leads you to via Mulini, which allows a beautiful view of the moat and the defensive walls of the open air artillery museum starting from the Torrione della Madonna and where you can admire several cannons dating back to 1850 originally from the Bourbon fortress of Gaeta and given as a gift to the city by King Vittorio Emanuele II, to serve as berthing bollards. The scenic walk in the direction of the sea leads to the Porta Vecchia, so called because it was where one of the city gates once stood. This part of preserved wall stretches out towards the sea contributing to the charm of one of the most picturesque and photographed places in the territory.

Walk along the inside of the walls along via Pappacenere and you arrive in front of the bastion of the same name, turn left into largo San Giovanni which overlooks the modest church of San Giovanni Gerosolomitano dated 1707 and a building that includes the remains of the hospital, built by order of Don Erberto Mirelli in 1790. The complex belongs to the domus Johannites, such as those present in Bari, Barletta, Taranto, which had the function of assisting pilgrims and the sick.

Via Pappacenere merges with via San Vito, named after the small church, dedicated to the saint that appears in its quintessential beauty notwithstanding the ravages of time and weather. A little further on the church of San Salvatore, a victim of the same fate has undergone restoration work to recover its original elegant line. The facade is divided into two levels by a cornice. In the first one, the portal stands out, on which a tympanum is placed interrupted by a niche. On the upper level, the peculiar shape of the central window catches the eye.

The bell tower is the prestigious work of Michelangelo Sorino and dates to 1770.

Initially, it was detached from the bulk of the building but connected to the facade. The tower is not particularly tall and does not represent the elegant geometric solutions of the time, for the apparent reasons of statics and proximity to the sea and its winds. A few meters further on you come across the Bastione di Santa Maria, whose name derives from the church that it protects, and which is also known as Chiesa della Zaffara. On the top of the bastion are two cannons on mounts rebuilt according to the criteria of the sixteenth century. Climbing the stairs, you can enjoy a pleasant view of the sea and the Lungomare Santa Maria up to the Castle of Carlo V. The building, completed in 1542 under the direction of Viceroy Don Ferrante Loffredo, displays the typical geometry of a sixteenth-century fortress.


The complex is divided into three levels. From the north-east side you can access the dock floor, corresponding to the hall of arms, which consists of two large rooms with barrel vaulted ceilings, the longer of which was lowered, to make room for a dormitory for Spanish soldiers.

Incorporated into the castle in a single hall is the 9th-century church of San Nicola in Pinna. Excavation tests on the floor of the church found piling holes and artefacts attributable to the Bronze Age.

The first floor was modified by seventeenth-century building works, which replaced the wooden structures with a series of barrel-vaulted halls arranged around a central courtyard when the castle also had a residential function.

An access ramp leads to the terrace which had become the drill ground as a replacement for the courtyard floor. From 1826 onwards the castle was used as a jail until the year 1970. Today the structure hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events.

In front of Largo Castello, you can find Via Orazio Comes, overlooked by the castle it leads you past palaces and densely populated buildings. One of the most important and prominent of these buildings is the eighteenth-century Palazzo Martinelli-Meo Evoli, built adjacent to the city wall. Its majestic portal was a feature added to the original French widows in the nineteenth century.

Continuing along Via Orazio Comes you come to Via Santa Teresa on your left, walk alongside the church and monastery dedicated to the saint of the same name and which dates to 1735. Originally it was dedicated to Saints John the Baptist and Anna and founded by the Order of the Discalced or Teresian Carmelites. Arriving in Largo Palmieri are immediately struck by the majestic 18th century, Palazzo Palmieri.

The mansion was built on a previous home of the family at the bequest of Francesco Paolo. The grandeur of the main facade with scenic elegance reflects the goals and prestige of its commissioners. In the lower part the ashlar frames the rest of the building. The portal is set on two Ionic columns on which rests an architrave with a frieze and cornice. Above the entrance there is a coat of arms consisting of a shield on which stand three palm branches and two stars.

The palace stands on four floors. On the ground floor, there were once stables for horses, halls for carriages and a haystack. The atrium allows access to the upper levels through a double staircase. On the noble floor, the gallery is the most interesting frescoed room with its picturesque view of the external portico; at one time it was a place where beautiful works of art and archaeological finds were exhibited.

A hanging chapel rests on an arch that surmounts a narrow alley. While the top floor once provided guest rooms. In 1921, under the last testament of the Marquis Francesco Saverio, the palace was bequeathed to the Congregation of Charity to house a kindergarten and a School of Arts and Crafts.

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