Monopoli, the medieval village suspended between history and sea | Bellarome

Monopoli, the medieval village suspended between history and sea

Monopoli is an Italian municipality of 48.792 inhabitants of the metropolitan city of Bari, in Puglia.

Monopoli represents, on the Adriatic, one of the most active and populous ports in the region. Its characteristic historical center of early medieval origin, superimposed on the remains of a fortified Messapian settlement already in the 5th century BC, overlooks the sea surrounded by high walls.


Monopoli is also called, erroneously, the city of 99 districts; this wording represents a tourist hyperbole, since from the municipal resolution of 1971 and as is evident from the current city tourist maps, the city includes 91 districts: these are administrative subdivisions of the area formerly located outside the city walls, whose toponyms evoke ancient houses disappeared, the presence of a farm, a church or other historical-geographical references.

There is no certainty either on the ancient toponym or on the origin of the current name of the city. The most recent archaeological excavations show that a nucleus already existed in the Messapian era (5th century BC) and that it had powerful walls. From the Tabula Peutingeriana, from the late Roman era, it is clear only that in those years, approximately in the area of today’s Monopoli, there was the center called Dertu.

The city of Monopoli would draw its ancient origins from a mighty Messapian fortress located on the border of Peucezia. The Messapian walls probably encircled the entire peninsula identified by the so-called Cala della Porta Vecchia and the Cala Porto Antico; along via dei Mulini, inside the Bastione di Santa Maria, under the Castle, near the Episcopal Palace, important sections of the 5th century BC fortifications are still preserved

Of the Roman era only the large fortified gate, incorporated in the Castle, and some tombs in the underground area of ​​the Cathedral remain. According to the dubious testimony reported by the local historian Giuseppe Indelli, in the year 43 San Pietro would have preached, passing through, to a group of monopoly citizens. From the 1st century BC until the third century AD it is a mainly military port.

Later, thanks to the arrival of the refugee egnatini of their city (destroyed by Totila king of the Goths), Monopoli would become a center of primary importance, including commercial: from the 10th century it became an important port (as well as the only one of a certain importance ) between Bari and Brindisi, a meeting point between the hinterland and the sea. It also becomes a crossroads for travel and contacts with the East during the Crusades, with consequent great economic and demographic development. It is precisely during the Middle Ages that the city of Monopoli experienced its maximum expansion, so much so as to incorporate the territories of the current cities of Fasano, Locorotondo, Alberobello and Cisternino.

Between renovated churches, stately buildings reopened to the public and overlooking the Adriatic, it is now possible to enjoy exciting walks in the old city, whose alleys have also been populated by a thousand locals that (unlike the capital), fit well into the picturesque context in which they are located. A village rich in history gradually reborn in the last four years thanks to European funds conveyed by the Region and invested by the municipal administration precisely in culture.

Let’s start our virtual tour in this ancient medieval village of Puglia!


The Castle of Carlo V

The castle of Carlo V of Monopoli is a sixteenth-century fortress built during the Spanish domination of the city.

When accessing to the castle from the land side, you can note the gunboats on the stands facing the city, typical of the ambiguous function of urban fortresses (internal intimidation and external defence).

The works for the construction of the castle ended in 1552: the fort was wanted by the Emperor Charles V with a view to the Apulian coastal fortifications system. It was built on a small promontory (called Punta Pinna), using the 10th century church of “S. Nicola in Pinna” and a large Roman gate from the 1st century BC as its central nucleus. (fortified by two two-storey lateral guards), in turn raised on the Messapian walls of the fifth century BC. The archaeological excavations of the years 1990-2010 of the Archaeological Superintendence of Puglia have eliminated any doubt in this regard.

The work was completed under the supervision of Viceroy Don Pedro of Toledo, or according to other versions, by the Marquis Don Ferrante Loffredo.

In 1600 it was enlarged and restructured: the external physiognomy and the internal composition were greatly modified, thus passing from a purely defence structure to a residential type.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the castle became a jail until 1969. Subsequently abandoned, it is now used (after being subjected to important consolidation and restoration works in the nineties) as a venue to host important cultural events such as pictorial exhibitions, photographic and cinematographic.

The simple plan of the castle is enriched by pentagonal bastions that rise to the five vertices. The drawbridge (and therefore the primary entrance) was to be found to the south-west where a cylindrical tower built later can be reached via a small ramp.

A well-preserved part of the ancient walls is still visible to the left of the tower. The numerous gunboats distributed from the roofs to the surface of the water, both inside and outside the port, are well arranged. The large “arms room” is suggestive. Under the loggia there is the loaded stone coat of arms of the date 1552, and from the name of the viceroy Don Pedro of Toledo, as already said material realizer of the building.

There are several elements of artistic and historical interest in the building:

The rock church of San Nicola de Pinna was founded at the end of the 10th century by the Saxon monopoly.

The large arms room, characterized by four “water-level” gunboats, two facing the open sea, two inside the port, served by four 1,400 kg Neapolitan smooth-barreled howitzers of the first half of the 19th century .

The castle is superimposed on a large Roman gate from the 1st century BC. (which overlooks the arms room), equipped with two two-storey guards, surmounted by two octagonal towers (currently almost entirely incorporated in the masses of the sixteenth-century castle).

This complex genesis of the fort was highlighted by the archaeological excavations carried out by the Archaeological Superintendency of Puglia (Dr. Miranda Carrieri), by the restorations of the engineer Francesco Selicato and by the restoration completed in 2011 by the architect Domenico Capitanio. The study of the architect Angelo Papio is very interesting and well documented.


Church of Santa Maria del Suffragio

The church of Santa Maria del Suffragio, more commonly known as Purgatory, dates back to the early eighteenth century, with a door with wooden compartments and a geometric, conceptual representation of the Triumph of Death. The door panels identify and objectivize, in the upper area, the emblems of power and, in the lower part, the tools of work. To level and make the social pyramid horizontal is death, depicted in the two central skeletons, which are each mirror of the other, and therefore invite to guess, given the importance that the world gives it, who had them two the fate, in life, to hold the crown of kings or the hat of cardinal, and who to bear, with the weight of the hoe, that, even more serious, of poverty.

The church has the shape of a Latin cross with five altars, the main one in classical Baroque style, in Lecce stone. In the garden of the sacristy, a staircase leads to a crypt, an underground burial ground, belonging to the church and in which the confreres and their closest relatives were buried. Inside, in some display cases, skeletons of confreres who died in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are preserved. On the main altar there is the canvas of the Neapolitan Paolo De Matteis, depicting the Madonna del Carmine.

In order to understand the origins of this church, it is necessary to step back. Noble families opposed to life and united by the cult of death from the seventeenth century onwards. It happens in Monopoli (Bari) and the families we are talking about are the Indelli and the Palmieri. The first donated to the church of Santa Maria del Suffragio (called del Purgatorio) the goldsmith’s house which today houses the 9 mummies including the small Plautilla by Francesco Indelli. The latter were no less and built the putridarium of the church in via Padre Nicodemo Argento 16. As if to say that the “mummification chamber” was a gift from the antagonists of all time. In that relief arranged just below the rectory, the processes of tanatometamorphosis (mummification) of the bodies for natural draining occurred, so much in vogue in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from the XVIII to the XIX century.

In Monopoli, mummies as in those of many other southern towns, the legacy of the ancient rites of double burial remains in vogue. The ancient concept that the deceased is no longer alive and not even completely dead until the unravelling of the flesh that allowed the unalterable whiteness of the bones to emerge. The cadaveric metamorphosis as a metaphor for purifying the soul until the second burial.

That did not happen for the mummies of Purgatory still exposed in a side wing of the church where the confraternity of Our Lady of Suffrage for the souls of Purgatory is located. On the ground of a tragedy, the bell tower of the old Romanesque cathedral collapsed in 1687, with 37 dead and many injured.

Castle of Santo Stefano

The castle of Santo Stefano, also called Abbazia di Santo Stefano, is an important coastal fortification located outside the city of Monopoli. Throughout the Middle Ages it was an essential component of the complex and articulated monopoly defense system.

Founded in 1086 by Goffredo, count of Conversano, it was built on a peninsula extending between two inlets that form two small natural harbors, that is the current shores of Santo Stefano and Ghiacciolo. With the presence of a well from which to draw groundwater, it was the seat of the Benedictine monastery, who gave the fortress its name for the presence of the saint’s relics, then moved on 26 December 1365 from Monopoli to Putignano to defend them from continuous aggressions pirates and pirates.

Around the end of the thirteenth century, the Knights of Malta, who already had a domus intra moenia used as a hospital, in order to control traffic to the Holy Land with more wealth, decided to move to the abbey by refortifying the old coastal defensive manor.

They created a moat that is still visible and made the coves to the right and left of the monastery-fortress useful for docking. In practice, on Greek or Eastern Greek days, the abbey-fortress became a must for sailors from Bari to Brindisi.

The presence of two coves also provided the possibility to repair several ships at the same time and to supply them with everything needed to undertake the journey to the Holy Land. The surrounding area, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was incorporated into the chapter of the cathedral of Monopoli. With the voluntary annexation, the first city in Puglia, the abbey with the land and the castle passed under the Bourbon administration. The castle is currently owned by the de Bellis family.

Palmieri Palace

The majestic Palmieri Palace, is located in the historic center of Monopoli, which “frames” Piazza Palmieri, was commissioned by Francesco Paolo, (who lived there with his large family, including Michele, the future Bishop of Monopoli) in the recent decades of the eighteenth century, from a previous home. The Palmieri family was one of the most powerful and influential families in Monopoli and the prestigious building was one of the many buildings and palaces that the family held in monopoly territory.

When Francesco Paolo died, the palace passed to his son Teodoro and remained the property of the Palmieri until 1921, when the last direct heir, the Marquis Francesco Saverio, died in solitude, who with his will appointed the “Congregation of Charity” as universal heir. and arranges for a kindergarten and a school of arts and crafts to be housed in its palace. For a long period, these two institutions operated in the building which, lastly, hosted the State Art Institute from 1965 to 1990.

Currently, in execution of the will, the building belongs to the I.P.R.A.B. (Public Institution of Assistance and Charity) as regards bare ownership, while the Episcopal Curia is the owner of the usufruct.

The majestic building, which dominates the square with its own size, was built in the same way as a typical Neapolitan-style building, in the late Baroque style inspired by Lecce.

It is framed at the bottom by a rusticated base and at the top by a limestone cornice surmounted by the family coat of arms (another similar coat of arms is present, in key, on the arch called “delle Palme”, ​​which connects the palace to the garden; on this you can read the motto iustus ut palma flore bit).

The real marquise home is that of the main floor. It consists of a succession of rooms, almost all frescoed that surround the internal atrium and other service areas.

The most important room is the gallery which also opens onto the external loggia; it must show art collections and ancient finds.

Adjacent to the gallery there is a private chapel suspended on the alley with a pointed arch. The plan also includes a study and the landlord’s library. Finally, the top floor was intended for the reception of relatives and friends.

Martinelli Palace

Palace of the 18th century, it was raised on the ancient city walls; of the majestic building, in Via Orazio Comes n ° 26 from which a long stretch is preserved intact, it was owned first by the Bandino family, then by the Carbonelli and Lentini families and finally by the Martinelli family, who bought it at the end of the eighteenth century. The Martinellis had come from Mola for commercial reasons, and inhabited it from the early nineteenth century, after having probably renovated the facade.

The long elevation presents eighteenth-century doors – windows, while the monumental entrance portal and the semicircular balconies on the first floor were built and enlarged in neo-Gothic style around the mid-nineteenth century. The building, on three levels, overlooks the harbor and retains large eighteenth-century windows with pagoda gables and round arches.

A remarkable scenographic effect produces the loggia, erected on three arches, overlooking the harbor with eight pointed arches, in neo-Gothic style, and a balcony with balustrades. Inside, beyond the large entrance hall, there is a courtyard with a beautiful open staircase in an eighteenth-century three-storey loggia. It overlooks an elegant window and a mixed window door.

The Martinelli family derives (from certain documentation) from the homonymous one of Mola, a city in which it was already present towards the end of the 1500s, as attested by the birth certificate of Clemente, born in 1646, which also bears the name of the ancestor of the newborn: another Clement.

A branch of the house with Vito Giuseppe and Vito Giovanni was imposed in Mola. Of these, Vito Giuseppe left Mola to “land” in Monopoli, as he was attracted by the greater possibilities of commerce offered by the monopolitan city. Married to the Molese Caterina Buttaro, he had no children and heir to his property was his nephew Clemente, who had followed him and who married in Monopoli, with Rosa Pizzangroia. From these all the local Martinelli descended. The family, in Monopoli, became related (especially by huge fortune), with local noble families, including the Indelli, the Manfredi, the Ghezzi, the Farnararo and foreigners (Noja, Zaccaria, Correale ..).


Monastery of San Martino

Adjacent to the homonymous religious palace, former convent of Benedictine nuns and now managed by the Curia, the church of San Martino was blessed in 1606, while the authorization of Pope Paul V came in 1618.

The facade shows a crumbling of calcarenite, due to the weathering action. Inside there is an organ dating back to the first half of the nineteenth century: it is an interesting example of the southern school of the early nineteenth century, characterized by the atypical presence of two larger spans of pipes on the sides and a smaller one in the center to give particular emphasis on the wooden facade ornament (information on the organ provided by Prof. Domenico Morgante).

The bell tower dates back to the 18th century. The adjoining convent, former Benedictine Monastery, seems to have been built to host novices from the less wealthy classes, who could not afford to access the most prestigious and rich Convent of the black Benedictines of San Leonardo, reserved for wealthy nobles.

In any case, it is not excluded that, even at the Convent of San Martino, elements of the city’s nobility had made their entrance, also in consideration of the fact that the convent of the “monacelle”, that is the “poorest”, was the one adjacent to the church of San Giuseppe and Anna.

The Monastery of San Martino was inaugurated in 1620: the first group of fifteen young people and two boarders was led by the abbess Donna Felice Indelli, who came from the monastery of S. Leonardo.

Externally, it is worth noting the drains placed at the height of the terrace that allowed the cloistered nuns to look down without running the risk of being recognized.

From the church of San Martino comes the canvas, now kept in the Diocesan Museum, depicting the Virgin and Child between San Martino and the poor man and San Benedetto (we find the figure of San Benedetto also in the church of San Leonardo).