Altamura, a splendid city
which lies on the Murge Plateau, not too far from Bari, offers
an wonderful architectonic spectacle in the form of the famous
12th Century Federiciana (Frederick the Great) Cathedral.
Altamura links its birth to the mythical disembarkation of
the escaping Trojans who landed on the Adriatic Italian coast.
During the journey from the motherland, which was unfortunately
destroyed and lost, the population commanded by a friend of
Enea (Aeneas) called Antellus, was thought to have founded
a city and given start to a new populous and civilisation,
as happened with the Sicilian city of Segesta. Here, in the
Murge Plateau is where the Trojan Antello settled and founded
A further mythical story of Altamura cites Althea, Queen of
the Myrmidons (Myrmidones), a mythological Greek population
who disembarked on the Adriatic coast.
The presence of man on the territory however, dates much further
back and is lost in history as testified by the famous retrieval
of a calcified Altamura Man on 17th October 1993 in the limestone
grotto of Lamalunga; believed to have lived 300,000 years
Little remains of the ancient city’s famous megalithic
walls (6th Century BC) which gave the city its name: that
is Alta-Mura (High Walls).
In the 2nd Century BC and during the Roman Empire, little
by little Altamura lost its importance. It then knew firsthand
invasions by the Goths, Vandals, followed by the Longbards
and Saracens, before its rebirth with the advent of the Swabians
in Southern Italy.
Thanks to the marriage of Henry VIth to Costanza d’Altavilla,
it became a Norman succession. The Swabians allowed Altamura
one of its greatest periods of weath, during which the Romanesque-Gothic
Cathedral was built (1234) and the City was proclaimed a royal
city under the direct rule of Emperor Federick II. This determined
an influx of people from all over the Mediterranean who wanted
to feel free and be able to practice their differing religions.
The “Claustri” (Cloisters) were formed (types
of alleys leading to courtyards. There are approximately 80
Greek and Arabic types), which provided a place of worship
for the foreign religious community.
After the fall of the Swabians, Altamura passed hands to the
Angioini, during which time the Cathedral was rebuilt following
a devastating earthquake.
It was therefore the Aragonese and many other noble families,
amongst which the Orsini del Balzo who came from Taranto,
who gave new impetus to the building of numerous churches.
From 1538 to 1734, Altamura, under the Farnese Family, enjoyed
a further period of development before passing hands to the
Bourbons in 1734. This event came about after the marriage
of Philip Vth of Spain to Elisabetta Farnese. Their son Carlo
of Bourbon, among other things, opened the Royal University.
The spread of liberal thinking brought to Italy by the Napoleonic
campaigns, were well supported by a city like Altamura, who
centuries before had already gained its independence and way
In 1799 a Tree of Freedom was planted and the City was proclaimed
a Republic, but the participation of the Papal troops, commanded
by Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, made this dream vanish a few days
later. The City fiercely resisted with only three canons.
It is for this reason it was given the name of Lioness of
The City then returned to Bourbon control until the date of
its unification to the Reign of Italy (1860).
Apart from the previously cited Cathedral, there are many
other churches of interest to visit: among them the nearby
San Nicola dei Greci (13th Century) and the Church of Santa
Chiara (17th Century).
A visit not to be missed by those passionate about history
is to the Dinosaur Caves in Pontrelli. This is one of the
richest fossil deposits in the world dating back to the Cretaceous
period (about 70 million years old).