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Altamura: an ancient beauty of Puglia

Nestled in the heart of Puglia, Altamura is a hidden beauty that invites travelers to explore its rich history, captivating sights, and mouthwatering cuisine. With its ancient charm and distinctive character, this enchanting city offers a unique experience for those seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

In this blog post, we will delve into Altamura’s captivating history, highlight its best things to do and see, explore what it is famous for, provide tips on how to get there, and indulge in the delightful local cuisine.

History of Altamura

Altamura boasts a history that spans thousands of years, making it an intriguing destination for history enthusiasts. The city was originally founded by the ancient Italic tribes and later flourished under Roman rule. However, its true claim to fame lies in its well-preserved medieval architecture and the remarkable Altamura Man, a prehistoric skeleton discovered in a nearby cave.

During the Middle Ages, Altamura thrived as an important center for commerce and art, leaving behind a legacy of stunning architecture. The magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, built in the 13th century, stands as a testament to the city’s rich artistic heritage. Its impressive rose window and intricately carved reliefs make it a must-visit attraction.

source beniculturali

Best Things to Do and See

Explore the Altamura Cathedral

Also known as the Cattedrale di Altamura or the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, is a magnificent Romanesque-style cathedral located in the historic center. The cathedral’s construction dates back to the 13th century, and it showcases the distinctive architectural style of Apulian Romanesque. The façade of the cathedral is adorned with ornate decorations and sculptures, reflecting the skilled craftsmanship of the era. The main entrance features a Romanesque portal with intricately carved reliefs.

The cathedral’s bell tower stands tall next to the main structure. It is an impressive example of medieval architecture and provides a panoramic view of Altamura from the top. Visitors can climb the tower to enjoy breathtaking views of the city and its surroundings. The interior of the Altamura Cathedral is equally captivating. The cathedral features a Latin cross-shaped floor plan with a nave and two side aisles. The vaulted ceiling is supported by robust columns, and the walls are adorned with frescoes depicting religious scenes.

Visit the Altamura National Archaeological Museum

Here you will learn about the Altamura Man: an ancient human skeleton dating back over 130,000 years. In 1993, during construction work in a cave known as “Lamalunga” near Altamura, a remarkable discovery was made. A partial skeleton was found embedded in the cave’s calcareous concretions. The remains were determined to be a Neanderthal individual who lived approximately 130,000 years ago. This discovery, known as the Altamura Man or the “Homme of Altamura,” is one of the most complete and best-preserved Neanderthal skeletons ever found.

The Altamura Man is significant because it provides valuable insights into the life and characteristics of Neanderthals, an extinct species closely related to modern humans. The remarkably preserved skeleton allows scientists to study various aspects, such as physical attributes, lifestyle, and cultural practices of Neanderthals.

Wander through the Historic Center

The historical center features a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys lined with medieval buildings. The architecture reflects the city’s long history, with influences from different periods, including Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles. The well-preserved facades, arches, and courtyards provide a unique atmosphere.

The heart of Altamura’s historical center is Piazza Duomo, the square where the Altamura Cathedral is located. This bustling square is surrounded by beautiful buildings and offers a lively ambiance. It’s a great place to sit at a café, people-watch, and soak in the surroundings. Altamura’s historical center is home to numerous historical and cultural landmarks. Apart from the cathedral, you can find other churches, palaces, and civic buildings with architectural and artistic significance. Exploring these sites provides insights into the city’s past and the cultural traditions of the region.

altamura puglia

Pane di Altamura (Bread of Altamura)

The bread of Altamura, known as “Pane di Altamura” is a culinary treasure that holds a special place in Italian gastronomy. Renowned for its exceptional quality, distinct flavor, and centuries-old tradition, it has been awarded the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Union, ensuring its authenticity and uniqueness.

The bread of Altamura is made using only four ingredients: durum wheat semolina, water, salt, and natural yeast. The use of durum wheat semolina, locally grown in the fertile plains surrounding the city, gives the bread its characteristic golden color and distinctive aroma. The dough is left to rise naturally for several hours, allowing the flavors to develop fully. Pane di Altamura has a distinctive shape, typically round with a flat top, and a dense, compact crumb. The crust is thick, rustic, and slightly charred, offering a delightful crunch when bitten into. Its texture is firm and chewy, making it an ideal bread for dipping in olive oil or enjoying with local cheeses and cured meats.

One of the secrets to the exceptional quality of Pane di Altamura lies in the traditional wood-burning ovens used for baking. These ovens, made of stone or brick, are heated with hardwood, infusing the bread with a unique smoky flavor and giving it its characteristic crust. One remarkable feature of the bread of Altamura is its long shelf life. Thanks to its low moisture content and the natural fermentation process, the bread can stay fresh for up to a week. This quality has historically made it an essential food for long journeys and a staple for the local farmers and shepherds.

The bread of Altamura holds significant cultural importance in the city’s traditions. The annual “Festa del Pane” (Bread Festival) celebrates the bread-making heritage of Altamura, featuring processions, music, dance, and, of course, plenty of opportunities to taste the renowned Pane di Altamura.

bread of altamura
source dawghousebakery

How to Get There

Altamura is easily accessible from various cities in Italy. The nearest major airport is Bari Karol Wojtyla Airport, which offers domestic and international flights. From the airport, you can reach Altamura by train or bus. Alternatively, if you are traveling by car, Altamura is conveniently located along the A14 highway, making it accessible from other parts of Italy.

What to see nearby

Near Altamura, there are several remarkable attractions and destinations that are worth exploring. Here are some of the main things to see and visit:

Matera: Just a short distance away, Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its ancient cave dwellings, known as the Sassi. Explore the fascinating cave houses, churches, and winding streets that make Matera a unique and captivating destination.

Alta Murgia National Park: Located close to Altamura, this national park offers breathtaking landscapes of rolling hills, rocky plateaus, and ancient ruins. Enjoy hiking or biking trails, visit prehistoric sites, and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the park.

Gravina di Puglia: This charming town, situated along the deep ravine of Gravina, boasts an impressive historical center with ancient churches, medieval architecture, and panoramic views. Don’t miss the iconic Ponte della Gravina, a bridge that spans the ravine.

Castel del Monte: A short drive brings you to this iconic medieval castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built by Emperor Frederick II, the castle’s unique octagonal shape and impressive architecture make it a must-visit attraction.

Grotte di Castellana: Explore the mesmerizing underground world of the Castellana Caves, located a short distance from Altamura. These vast limestone caves feature stunning stalactites, stalagmites, and awe-inspiring formations.

Trani: Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Trani is a picturesque coastal town with a beautiful harbor, an impressive Romanesque cathedral, and a charming historic center. Enjoy the seaside promenade, sample fresh seafood, and soak in the relaxed coastal atmosphere.

Trani Cathedral puglia