Will you plan to fly to Bari in Puglia? Let me take you to a place you will not find in guidebooks. I won’t be surprised if at first you do not believe. It sounds incredible, even for Italia. Therefore, try to imagine. Beautiful white town, the elegant streets and narrow streets paved with bright plates, intimate courtyards called claustri and unusual treasures hidden among them. In one of those alleys is a bakery open in the Middle Ages, which still produces bread, continuously since 1423. Also, I could not believe it. Come and see Altamura.
It was a beautiful day August 29th 2014, when in the morning we came to Altamura, the largest city area of Alta Murgia and located on the border of the national park of the same name, the same one in which there is the famous Castel del Monte, the property inscribed on the UNESCO list. Then I traveled by car, but you can get here easily by train from Bari. By car it’s just 45 km south of the capital region, the train goes little detour and takes about one and half an hour. But note! This connection is supported by local carrier Ferrovie Appulo Lucane. It’s very clean and punctual trains, I traveled on this route from Matera to Bari and I’m very delighted.
After the first minute Altamura impressed me. It’s a clean, well-kept city, but the delight come after crossing the city walls defining the city center. Bright buildings walls, streets paved with tiles in similar color, flowers in pots and cloudless sky turned out to be a mixture which truly gripped my heart.
Altamura origins date back to V in. BC, when it was established fortified settlement, then destroyed by the Saracens and abandoned until the thirteenth century. King Frederick II settled in the ruins Greeks. They built high walls surrounding city which slowly coming back to life, and from it comes the name of Altamura (alta – high muro – wall).
The most beautiful building of Altamura is undoubtedly the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta of mixed architectural style. Romanesque, Puglia, gothic and baroque melange present a very impressive main square, Piazza del Duomo. This’s the heart of the city, and no matter which direction you take another step to further exploration of narrow streets, numerous palaces, churches and small claustri characteristic for Altamura, will delight you with its beauty and elegance. However, it’s a place you can not miss.
The famous Altamura’s bread
Altamura is primarily known throughout Italy fine bread shape resembling a heart, having since 2005 the EU quality certification Denominazione d’Origine Protetta, or DOP, analogous to the DOCG for wines, indicating that the product is manufactured in accordance with stringent requirements, which determine the origin of the ingredients and place of production. This ensures, that the product has been produced in the region of origin. Same as in the case of the famous Neapolitan pizza, which I have written in the guidebook of the best pizzerias of Naples. But back to the bread of Altamura. It’s interesting, that it competes with very similar in terms of taste and shape bread from the nearby Matera (it’s Basilicata) to the extent that the hostility between the towns became legendary. There is no greater offense to citizen of Matera than a statement during stay in the city, that here we are in Puglia, which unfortunately among tourists its not unusual.
The morning is the ideal time of day to visit Altamura. All local bakeries operate then in full swing, making the narrow streets spreads a wonderful fragrance. But we’re going, however, at strictly defined address. At via Luca Martucci 10, right next to the cathedral, is a charming claustro, and a door leading to a small bakery interface located a few steps below the level of a square. Welcome to Antico Forno Santa Chiara.
The room is small, though high, very simply furnished. On the left side there’s a counter with a cash register, there’s also tempting cookies, of course, produced inside, as well as hand-made pasta in various forms, packaged, filling shop shelves. In front my eyes threw the freshest and incredibly fragrant foccacia, just taken from the oven. Thick yeast dough, glistening from the drizzling olive oil, is covered by various combinations of additives. The bread is not yet available. The dough kneaded by hand in the same way for almost 600 years arises from a combination of semolina obtained from hard durum wheat, of course, from the area of Puglia, and water and yeast. After the kneaded dough is divided into portions, and then – according to tradition – put aside for few hours and then to the wood-fired oven. Exactly. Here it’s, the famous stove recalls the times of the late Middle Ages. From the outside inconspicuous, more like a fireplace, but rather a castle-like fireplace, huge, tall at about two meters. But the owen is bigger. Shovels for inserting and removing the pastries are so long that they reach the ceiling. The application suggests itself. The stove must be several meters deep. What a place! Unable to buy bread contented ourselves with a piece of foccacia. Serving on weight, piece more then 1/4 cost about 2.50 euros.
Note! Antico Forno Santa Chiara is close on Sunday!
Foccacia, consumed on the steps of one of the churches it tasted great, absolutely captivated my heart. But we were determined to buy the famous bread. Going forward quite by accident we came to another, old bakery. Antico Forno Santa Caterina has been active since 1724. Here, the bread was removed just from the oven. The price is – if my memory serves me well – about 2.50 – 3.0 euros per kg.
Altamura and McDonald’s
Few years ago in Altamura was opened restaurant’s of most famous fast food brand. And what? After the initial considerable interest in the residents, customers began to drain away and go back to their local specialties, foccacia and Altamura’s bread. McDonalds lasted one year, and then with a roar was bankrupt, which was so phenomenal event in the world, that has even an article in the New York Times. As it turned out, the old ladies was very happy to visit the American fast food because of the well-functioning air-conditioning! More on this topic you will find on the friendly blog, I invite you to Basilicata, Puglia and surroundings .
Bon appetit! Don’t avoid Altamuta during your Apulian travels. Really stop in here at least for two or three hours, eat foccacia and take a walk admiring the claustri hidden between the well-kept, atmospheric streets.
If you have any questions, please, ask them in the comments on this post, I will try to answer each and advise. I’ll be happy to read your experiences, the weather in Sicily, go ahead and share the information, I’m sure it will help those who just planning to go there 😉
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