In Monopoli, along the side of the Adriatic Sea, there’s an old Roman road ordered by Trajan and used to great effect by the legions of Roman soldiers headed from Rome and Brindisi towards Albania which is just across the ferry lanes. Monopoli was once quite the place, argued over and settled by various people at various times. Not so today. At least not so the old bit.
The great big new bit, on the other hand, is pretty popular and crowded or so it seemed to us as we were driven down a multitude of one way streets, avoiding pedestrians, cyclists, men with shotguns and car doors as our taxi driver/gardener headed towards the Francis of Assisi church at the end of the new and the beginning of the old.
Monopoli (One City in ancient Greek…and maybe modern Greek as well) was originally settled in about 500BC by a lapygian tribe (the original Apulians) called the Messapians. I guess they lived there, unmolested for ages because the next thing we know is when Trajan turned up with his road builders in around 107AD. The road was called Via Traiana and a bit of it can still be seen in an archaeological park which we didn’t see.
Actually there’s also a lovely archaeological museum in the crypt of the cathedral but we didn’t see that either because the cathedral was closed while we were visiting. To be fair, most of everything was closed in the old part of Monopoli while we visited not that we really minded. It was quite lovely wandering the streets, looking at the crumbling ruins of once great edifices and not having to worry about visiting somewhere too good to miss.
The one thing we didn’t miss was the first (and only) thing we visited: The aforementioned church of St Francis of Assisi.
We rather think of St Francis of Assisi as being the Disney princess of the Catholic canon in that he appears to attract small creatures in the way that Snow White does. His benevolent, grandfatherly face always looks down in a kindly manner in a way that very few other saints manage. I guess it was because he never really suffered – I’m ignoring the rumour that he suffered the stigmata late in life (**eyes rolling**).
I also hadn’t realised that good old Frank is the patron saint of Italy which may explain why Italians like Frank Sinatra so much.
Anyway, his church in Monopoli, ignoring the big scaffolding in the first chapel to the left of the entrance, was big and airy and friendly. Well, apart from the rather evil looking statue of him showing us his holey hands. (I think it looks remarkably like Darren and I wrote to Lorna saying just that.)
From here we wandered down to the inner harbour where we watched a boat unload its morning catch before heading back out for, I guess, its afternoon catch. We walked around the marina, by the giant paintings of scary young girls who were supposed to be heralds of Spring (but looked more like multi-costumed Harpies) and on towards Charles V’s castle…which wasn’t open because there was a photographic exhibition inside.
Charles V was the King of Spain and a Holy Roman Emperor for a bit and settled in Monopoli for a while after 1530. Before then, the cities defences managed to hold him back, along with the Muslim pirates against whom the battlements were originally created.
Mind you, while Monopoli was sort of under Spanish rule, it was still allowed to remain a free city. I guess that means they could be self governing and retain some form of independence over a nation that didn’t really care about them anyway. A bit like Catalan.
The clock suddenly struck beer o’clock (in my head) so we stopped at a small bar/cafe overlooking the Adriatic Sea and I enjoyed a local blanche beer while Mirinda had an Americano with froth rather than milk.
It’s actually very interesting the variety of Americano Mirinda has received in this, the country where it was invented to satisfy the weak coffee tastes of the Americans. Sometimes there’s cold milk on the side, sometimes hot milk and, today, a load of froth. There was also the time it was actually made with milk but I’m trying to forget that.
Having idled away a goodly amount of time while watching the sea and listening to a live recording of the Velvet Underground which was playing in the cafe much to my great pleasure, we set off once more.
We kept wandering beside the sea until we found the closed cathedral, which is pretty foreboding as it sits making everyone quiver at the might of an invisible father figure born of mythological monsters and scary stories we tell our children to make them shut up at bedtime in fear of what lies in wait for their souls.
We gradually headed back to the main square for lunch at a restaurant that our trullo host recommended; 10. We shared a Caprese salad then I had a pizza while Mirinda struggled to eat half a pasta dish. My pizza was delicious as was the beer I had with it.
And I’m pleased to say that everyone else at the restaurant appeared to enjoy their food as much as we did. One old chap was so pleased he snapped a photo of his deep fried fish, Mirinda assumed for his Instagram account. He did look a bit of an old aged influencer.
We managed to hang around, people watching, for a bit before heading back down for a final wander around the harbour. We sat on a nicely positioned wooden bench, watching various groups of people stopping to have their photos taken against the marine backdrop of moored boats.
We would have stayed longer except an incredibly rude and very old busker decided we were in his spot so he parked his bicycle about an inch from me and plonked his little stool about an inch from Mirinda prior to unhooking his guitar to begin playing. Offended by this obvious slight and unusual form of Italian hospitality, we strode off to meet our taxi driver/gardener for the trip back to the trullo.
As a side note…we saw quite a few shops selling a Monopoli version of Monopoly, which is a bit of a cack.
The rest of the day we spent lazing around, just chilling, saying goodbye and thank you to our host – he was leaving for Greece for three months – before eating a few bits and pieces from the fridge. We also watched separate Netflix programmes on our separate devices because…well because we’re like that.
Tomorrow we leave to return to Bari for a couple of days. We’re going to miss Alberobello.