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Published On: Thu, Dec 12th, 2019

3 Unusual Places To Visit in Puglia, Italy

Puglia – or to give it its original Latin name, Apulia – is a fascinating region of Italy with many historic towns and cities. The region also has a number of truly unusual destinations to visit, three of which are included here.

photo/ By Joan Nova on Flickr

  1. Castellana Caves

These magical caverns are lit each day by sunlight passing through the openings, creating a magical lighting effect. The cave system likely originated some one hundred million years ago when the land which is now Puglia emerged from the ocean.

The Castellana cave system is one of the largest in Italy and stretches for more than two miles, however, much of the system remains unexplored. The caves contain beautiful geological formations which reveal many colors as the sun lights them from above.

Only one cave connects to the outside and that is the huge la Grave. Measuring 330 ft in length, 200 ft in depth and 170 ft wide, this massive cave is truly magical as the sun first lights up the walls, then moves on to the stalagmites and the floor of the cave itself.

  1. Alberobello and the Trullo houses

Continuing our fascinating tour of Puglia, Italy, we now head to the fascinating town of Alberobello with its “spinning top” houses. Back in 1644, tax collectors were sent out on occasion by the King of Naples to Puglia, close to the quaint town of Alberobello. Count Acquaviva, the local lord, thought up a way to avoid settlement taxes by forcing the locals into Trullo houses which were easy to take apart should the tax collector come to visit. It seems the rich were avoiding taxes, even way back then!

Eventually the town received royal status from the King of Naples and the locals overthrew their feudal lord. However, those homes still remain and are domed houses made with no mortar, and topped with a conical roof.  Each has a miniature spire with a strange symbol decorating the roof and looks for all the world like an old spinning top, hence the nickname. Today, modern visitors can enjoy the site and learn about ancient history in Puglia during the feudal period of the 17th century. 

  1. Sassi di Matera and the cave homes

Returning to the subject of caves, this time the caverns are more as a form of accommodation than something to enter and marvel over. Flanking the city center of Matera in Puglia is a peasant neighborhood on the hillside, known as Sassi. This neighborhood features an amazing collection of cave houses, dating from Neolithic times, which are still in use today. In fact, they are considered to be the longest-occupied dwellings of this nature in the history of Earth.

Admittedly, up until the 1950s, Sassi di Matera was thought of as an embarrassment, especially by the fascists who were modernizing Italy. The cave homes had no real plumbing system and were lived in by poor and diseased locals. The government moved to evict the tenants living in the cave homes and plans were made to blow up the hillside and remove the blight from the area.

Just in time, however, scholars investigating Matera found the site of a secret 9th-century monastery, known as the Crypt of Original Sin. When they realized how ancient the settlement was, they moved to retain the cave homes, as they revealed evidence that the caves have been lived in continuously since at least 7,000 BC. Archaeologists even found a hominid skeleton dating back an amazing 150,000 years in one of the caves, complete with the original resident’s Neolithic tools. According to the experts, the area has been home to many civilizations, including the Romans, Greeks and Byzantines.

Nowadays, Sassi de Matera has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the neighborhood now features restaurants, boutique hotels, a jazz club, spa and wineries, all housed in the original caves.

Enjoy an alternative tour of Puglia in Italy and visit these and many more exciting and unique attractions.

Author: Anne Sewell

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