The Romanesque Cathedrals of Andria, Ruvo di Puglia and Trani
One of the peculiarities that the land of Bari offers us is the presence of medieval cathedrals, so large and numerous as to constitute the dominant theme for a fascinating journey.
Along the Castel del Monte DOC Wine Road, we have the good fortune to encounter three of the most beautiful cathedrals that offer us the Romanesque-Apulian style.
Our itinerary starts in the heart of the old town center of Andria, where the Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (Saint Mary of the Assumption) can be found. Its history is fascinating.
It is said that it was St. Peter himself who consecrated the Cathedral as a Catholic church, that after converting the city, he sought to sanctify the existing Italic temple as the first place of Catholic worship.
The structure of the cathedral is Norman, but its present appearance is the result of several reconstructions, for example the portico formed by three arches of bare stone pillars is in Neoclassical style.
To the left of the façade stands the bell tower, the top of which is a copper rooster symbolizing St. Peter.
The interior of the church is a large room with ceilings so high as to inspire awe.
Along the three aisles to the transept we catch a glimpse of the Chapel of St. Richard, that preserves the bones of the patron saint of the city.
Behind the high altar is one of the holiest places in the city; it is the chapel which houses the relic of the Holy Thorn, the largest and sharpest pointed thorn in the crown that Jesus wore on the cross.
Under the presbytery there is a small, early Christian crypt, very intimate and suggestive, it is characterized by two aisles with arches on columns, some with original capitals.
The Cathedral of Andria was a place dear to Frederick II of Swabia, so much so that he had two of his wives, Isabella of England and Jolanda of Brienne, entombed there.
Few kilometers separate the Andria Cathedral from that of Ruvo di Puglia and you could go through the country roads to enjoy the great outdoors.
The Cathedral of the Assumption is a wonderful testimony to the Middle Ages.
The church is located in the old town center, in a semi-circular plaza surrounded by a dense maze of streets and houses.
The edifice, completed in the thirteenth century, is a perfect combination of the Apulian Romanesque and the Swabian Gothic styles.
The church’s profile is characterized by an especially sloping roof and a façade of stone on which there are three portals with three false arches on columns.
The central portal is richly decorated along the jambs and the cornice with figures that recall nature and the human forms.
Watching over the church are figures of fantastical animals: column-bearing lions and griffins.
In the highest part of the façade are a bi-mullioned window and a large rose window, probably of Renaissance craftsmanship.
Completing the exterior walls are the characteristic hanging arches, with images such as male faces bearded and beardless, heads of real and imaginary animals, comic and tragic masks, crowned male and female heads.
The interior of the church is divided into three naves and on the bottom there are three high apses, visible from outside.
Inside we find the rich sculptural repertoire already anticipated on the façade.
So rare is it to find displayed in the Apulian churches such a vast figurative repertory that it makes the Cathedral of Ruvo one of the most beautiful pearls of Apulia.
It is very easy to reach the Cathedral of Trani, just be led by the scent of the sea and in the blink of an eye, we will find ourselves in front of the most beautiful and celebrated Romanesque Apulian edifice.
The Cathedral, dedicated to St. Nicholas the Pilgrim, is located in a beautiful square by the sea, where the main façade faces the Svevo Castle, while the apses look toward the charming port.
Sunset is the best time to enjoy the spectacle of the cathedral illuminated by the warm light of the sun reflecting off the white stone of the façade; in a magical play of light and shadow, all the decorations and the rose window seem embroidered on a white towel.
The cornice at the top is a splendid figurative repertoire of Apulian Gothic architecture. The lateral sides of the Cathedral are narrowed by a tight succession of blind arches that invites us to proceed towards the sea.
The main façade is introduced by a double ramp leading to a balcony with the magnificent main portal; it is a real unique specimen of Romanesque architecture for the complexity of the figures carved on the jambs.
The interior of the church is divided into three naves by pairs of special columns supporting round arches, the grandeur of the structure is breathtaking.
The wooden trusses accompany us towards the transept and under the transept we can discover the suggestive crypt intended to house the body of St. Nicholas, a chamber punctuated by 28 slender columns that support the cross vaults.
But such beauty must be discovered in person!
To describe all the richness present in the Apulian Romanesque Cathedrals is extremely complex, because only the eyes can capture the splendor of the forms, the clarity of the stone, the amazing fusion of nature and human will that make these buildings one of the pinnacles of art.