Apulia is essentially Italy’s boot heel. It is the gateway to the East and even though it fell to different conquerors throughout its history, these conquerors chose to live elsewhere with the exception of Frederick II who ruled from 1194 to 1250. The castles he built and the vast plantations of olive groves and vineyards during this reign continue to exude their beauty even in modern day Italy. Apulia is important to the economy of Italy because it produces one-tenth of all the wine drunk in Europe. Local food artisans have also mastered the art of manufacturing first rate oils and vintages that complement fresh seafood and vegetables.
Geographically, Apulia borders Adriatic Sea to the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Gulf of Taranto and Strait of Òtranto to the south. The regions importance in the 20th century is attached to the fact that it was the scene of the last phases of the Second Punic War. This region is characterized by succeeding broad plains and low lying hills. The only mountainous areas are the Monti Dauni and the Gagano promontory.
The history of Apulia dates back to ancient times when the southern peninsula was still referred to as Calabria. Due to this long history, Apulia is one of the few regions with archeological findings from 1000BC when the Italic and Illyric peoples settled in the area. Later on when the Greeks settled at Terras, Greek influences began spreading and replacing native Apulian culture.
During the 3rd and 4th century BC, ancient Romans conquered it as they battled against the Pyrrhus and Samnites. Following the Roman defeat against the Carthaginians, the region fell under Roman domination. When Roman Empire fell, the Goths, Lombards, and Byzantines took control of the territory until the 11th century when it fell to Normans. As the Norman expansion engulfed Italy, Apulia became a province under the Kingdom of Sicily before being transferred to the Kingdom of Naples where it stayed until the Turks and Venetians occupied its coast in the 18th century.
The liberation movements of the 19th century which led to the fall of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies also led to the unification of Apulia with Italy. However, despite numerous reforms, the characteristic Apulian architecture with Greek, Norman, Arab and Pisan influences from the 11th to 13th centuries can still be deciphered in public buildings, castles, and churches.
As a tourist destination, Apulia appeals to those who prefer areas which are less crowded. A trail of archeological museums and cathedrals that date back to the 10th century in addition to deserted Greek and Roman ruins offer an excellent insight into the region’s history. The lively fishing villages, medieval hill towns, and beaches as well as Europe’s largest forests dot the Apulian landscape.
Interplay between the ancient native cultures and the invading cultures have yielded a unique subspecies of architecture referred to as barocco leccese. This style comprises of ornate carvings covering the entire surfaces of palazzi and churches. One other characteristic feature is the i trulli; which are whitewashed cones created by holding stones together without using mortar. They are constructed in olive groves and wheat fields to serve as barns, but when hundreds are clustered together they form a miniature picturesque town. Alberobello is one region where these whitewashed cones can be found on every conceivable piece of land.
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