Discovering Puglia: Introduction

This past September and October my wife and I visited Puglia, Italy with a group of very talented painters lead by Toronto artist Barry Coombs ( Barry is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art, and for more than 20 years he has been leading workshops in Canada, Italy, France, Greece and Mexico.

Barry Coombs (front center) with his Art Workshop Group in Barletta, Italy

It was a grand two-week experience – the artists sketched and painted, and I took hundreds of photographs. I have included some in this blog,  and there will be more in future posts.

Puglia (pronounced poo-lee-ah) is a region in the southeastern tip of the Italian peninsula with a population of about 4 million. With an area of some 19,000 square kilometers, it is about three times the size of Prince Edward Island. 

A fishing boat entering the harbour at Trani, Italy

Puglia’s broad plains and low hills are bordered by the Adriatic Sea in the east, and the Ionian Sea in the southeast. The most southerly portion of the region forms the heel of the Italian boot. Because of my Canadian maritime heritage, I felt quite at home here. The many ports along Puglia’s 800 kilometers of coastline support a large fishing industry, and they also provide ferry connections to northern Italy, Croatia, Greece and the eastern Mediterranean.

Vineyards near Alberobello, Italy

Puglia has a warm, dry climate. Its few rivers are located in a tableland in the northern part of the region that is one of Italy’s most productive agricultural areas. Other areas receive water from  underground aquifers, and agriculture dominates throughout most of Puglia. The region is well known for its highly productive wheat fields, olive groves and vineyards.

And the region has so much history! Over the centuries Puglia has endured many conquerors. First came the Romans in the 3rd and 4th centuries, then the Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, Normans, Spanish, Turks, Venetians and even the French who controlled the region from 1806-1815. It wasn’t until 1861 that Puglia became part of Italy.

A 13th century castle in Barletta, Italy built by Frederick II

During the late 12th to early 13th centuries, Puglia was a favorite residence of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. He built castles throughout the region that are still standing today. The one at Barletta (shown in the photo at the left) was captured by German partroopers during World War II. In my next post I will show you some photos of Castel del Monte, one of Italy’s most unusual castles.

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