The commercial and administrative capital of Puglia, a university town and southern Italy’s second city, BARI has its fair share of interest. But although it’s an economically vibrant place, the town harbours no pretensions to being a major tourist attraction. People come here primarily for work or to leave for Greece, Croatia and Albania on its many ferries.
The coast south of Bari is a craggy stretch, with rock-hewn villages towering above tiny sandy coves, offering easy escapes from the city. In summer, and on hot weekends, expect beaches to be crowded.
Bari was already a thriving centre when the Romans arrived. Later, the city was the seat of the Byzantine governor of southern Italy, while, under the Normans, Bari rivalled Venice both as a maritime centre and, following the seizure of the remains of St Nicholas, as a place of pilgrimage. Since those heady days, Bari has declined considerably. Its fortunes revived briefly in 1813 when the king of Naples foisted a planned expansion on the city – giving the centre its contemporary gridded street pattern, wide avenues and piazzas. And Mussolini instituted a university and left a legacy of strident Fascist architecture. However, the city was heavily bombed during the last war, and today its compact and dynamic centre is a symbol of the south’s zeal for commercial growth. Fortunately, heavy investment in redeveloping the old centre has given Bari a new lease on life.