Monopoli today is a city of about 50 thousand people, one of most important and harbour of Puglia. It is situated on the Adriatic coast, about 40 kilometers South-East of Bari.
The name Monopoli came from the Greek “Monos – Polis” which means “The unique city”. Its “Town Arms” (three white roses on a red bottom) might symbolize the Christian faith of Monopoli people (white roses) defended with blood on the battle field (red bottom).
The old centre of Monopoli today is composed mostly by medieval buildings, but its origin is more ancient. Nearby the Cathedral, the Castle, the Old Walls and in Piazza Palmieri the remains of prehistoric shacks (XVI century b.C.) have been found.
In the V century b.C. Monopoli was a fortress of the Messapi (local people) with an important harbour, surrounded by strong walls, that you can partially see in Via Mulini, along the sixteenth-century walls and beneath the Castle Charles V and the S. Maria tower.
From the Roman Age (I century b. C.) it’s possible to see nowadays the large fortified door among the foundations of the Castle and some tombs beneath the Cathedral.
From a small fortress, Monopoli became a large town during Middle Ages, because of a population increase. In fact a lot of people moved from Egnatia, a city South of Monopoli, that was destroyed from 545 a.C. by Totila, the king of the Goti. In X century Monopoli was an important trade centre, thanks to its harbour that was the biggest between Bari and Brindisi and crossroads of trade between Puglia and the Orient.
Numerous people took power of the city, that was flourishing and much wanted by for instance: Byzantines, Normans, French, Spanish, Venetians. There was in 1529 a famous siege by the Spanish. Monopoli people heroically held out against the Spanish soldiers for three months with the help of Venetian soldiers, but then Monopoli was peacefully given to the Spanish king Charles V.
The architecture of Monopoli historical centre is strongly linked to the Spanish Emperor, from the Castle – built over older constructions by Charles V in a strategic place to defend the harbour – to the large defensive walls and the efficient system of coastal towers (Torre Incina, Torre D’Orte, Torre Cintola, Torre S.Giorgio, Torre Egnazia). The Saint Stephen Abbey (Abbazia di Santo Stefano), located in the South side of the city, was transformed into a castle to defend the land against Turk and Saracen incursions.
The Spanish domination in Monopoli lasted until 1713, when the Austrian power took over for few years. In 1734 the Borbone family took power and became the King of Naples. So, the influence of Naples culture was strong in Monopoli and a lot of workers and artists arrived from Naples who shaped lots of important monuments of our city in Baroque style: The Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin of “Madia” with its precious coloured marbles, the majestic Palmieri Palace, and a lot of Baroque supplements made in numerous churches of the city and a lot of important artworks preserved in some churches and inside the Diocesan Museum nearby the Cathedral.
At the end of XVIII century Monopoli was a large city in development and the historical centre, marked by the sixteenth-century defensive walls, wasn’t able to offer suitable space to the people. So they decided to destroy parts of the old defensive walls to build the “New Monopoli” pursuant to the project of the engineer Antonio De Simone with a large rectangular square called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, surrounded by buildings organized as a chessboard. This geometrical urban method was typical of that period when Gioachino Murat was at power in Naples, so it became famous as the “Murattiano” part of Monopoli. Equal city developments are found also in other cities of Italy and Europe.
The “Murattiano” district is the modern and orderly area, characterized by larger streets with buildings with elegant gates and balustrades in wrought iron, that are in strong contrast with the narrow and messy streets of the historical centre.
Nowadays this contrast between the old and the new town increases the charm of Monopoli, that is so different and able to amaze visitors with different and fascinating views.
Likewise amazing is the large Monopoli countryside, that offers landscapes so different in its one-hundred country-areas (in Italian called “contrade”), from the coast characterized by wonderful beaches and centenary olive trees, to the hill that rises to 400 meters above sea level with the Mount S. Nicholas and its extremely rich vegetation known as “macchia mediterranea”. Beyond the hill there’s the “Valle d’Itria” with its unmistakable trulli, typical houses with conical roof built just by dry stones called “chiancarelle”, and all around dry walls. Everywhere you might be enchanted by extraordinary olive trees one or more thousand years old, wonderful carob trees, almond and cherry trees with different colours, smells and tastes.
Monopoli countryside, as most of Apulian land, is rich in timeless treasures from rocky villages to elegant neoclassical houses and lots of large farms.
Together with our expert guide you can visit large villages excavated inside the rock underground, which you cannot find alone because they are hidden among the extremely rich vegetation and big olive trees. Most of them have also a rocky church with important frescoes made in Middle Age in Byzantine style. Here the time seems to stop and you make a jump one thousand years back!
There are also lots of fascinating large farms called Masserie, typical not just of Monopoli countryside but of all Apulia. They are farms built from XVI century and onwards as the center of country life, and most of them are fortified, so they could defend themselves from enemy attacks. Nowadays most of them are luxury resorts with all comforts, where you can relax in the nature. But it’s still possible to find some authentic large farms, where workers and housewives take care of the land and the animals, they harvest olives to produce oil and they make cheeses. These are places where it is still possible to feel the smell of the whitewash of lime that covers the buildings so rich in history, where the authentic country life is still lived as in the past with its traditions, tastes and fragrances.
Finally the Monopoli countryside is also rich in neo-classical houses: elegant houses built from XVIII century by rich families as vacation houses, where they could spend their spare time relaxing in the nature, surrounded by wonderful gardens with flowers and fountains.