Our Italian Adventure: Spotlight on Nardo'
Updated: Apr 30
PART 40: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.
We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.
Step 1: As we explore towns in Puglia, we discover some gems worth sharing. Some are well-known tourist magnets; others are lesser known but always unforgettable. This week let's explore Nardo', which is close to Lecce.
Step 2: History. Though the history of Nardo's area dates from Paleolithic times, the town can be traced to 269 BC, when the Romans built an extension of the Via Appia through it. The city was controlled by the Byzantines, Lombards, Normans, Angevines, and the Kingdom of Naples.
Nardo' is the 2nd largest and most populated city in the Province, right after Lecce, with about 32,000 inhabitants. Nardo' is one of the most culturally vibrant towns in the region.
When the House of Acquaviva acquired it under their domain, Nardo became the leading cultural hotspot of Salento, the seat of many Universities, Academies, and literary and philosophical studies.
Step 3: Appearance. Walking past the 15th-century Acquaviva castle, which seems to transform from orange during the day and moonstone at night, then into the historical center, I am first struck by the beautiful but restrained baroque architecture everywhere. From church facades to stately homes, the stone seems exuberant and dignified. The historical center is clean and very walkable, and the central plaza is an excellent place to meet friends or sit in a cafe and people-watch.
Step 4: Sights. A list of things to see and do in Nardo' is subjective. What I like may not appeal to someone else. Therefore, the things I will share here are things in Nardo that we find interesting. (Feel free to share your favorites!)
This piazza feels like the heart of Nardo', where people gather, stroll, and enjoy the sun. In the center is a beautiful baroque monument, the Immacolata Steeple, built in 1769 to thank the Virgin Mary for protecting the town from an earthquake. At Christmas, playful lights are projected on the surrounding buildings, and a festive atmosphere reigns.
I've seen a lot of churches in Italy, and I have to say that the cathedral in Nardo' is one of my favorites. The paintings in the apse are uniquely historical and modern, and the prayer chapel on the side, with its baroque architecture and modern sculptures of saints on the sides, beacons me to pause to remember how much I have to be grateful for. There is something about how the new and old form a harmony, with beautiful artwork and architecture, which translates into a peaceful space.
The present cathedral probably stands on the site of a Byzantine church; then, in 1080, another church was built here by the conquering Normans, which became a cathedral in the early 15th century. Today's facade dates from the 1700s, and the interior contains both medieval and 19th-century frescoes.
Alleys and winding streets
The fun of Nardo' is wandering through its alleys to see what we bump into. Dozens of churches, cool buildings, and exciting renovations always make a walk through the historical center full of discoveries. Exploring without a rush or itinerary is best.
Giovanni Antonio Acquaviva d'Aragona commissioned the Castle of Nardò, built between the 15h and early 16th centuries. He aimed to make the city safer following the Turkish invasions of 1480. A large moat surrounded the building, but when it became a noble residence, it was filled in and transformed into a garden, today the Villa Comunale. The Acquaviva castle is today the seat of the Municipality; its defensive architecture hints at its purpose.
Step 5: Cool place to enjoy the moment. Caffè Parisi in the central square has the atmosphere of an upscale coffee cafe in Paris or Madrid. A beautiful art nouveau-like interior and plentiful outdoor tables always invite us to make this cafe' one of our stops. The coffee is perfect, the pastries fresh, and the milkshakes are to die for. They have heartier food there also, which is always high quality.
Step 6: Modern Nardo’. The town has some great shops, but I will leave this section alone since shopping isn't my thing. :)
Insights: Many towns and locations in Puglia are lesser known, and these become the real gems of our time here. Many are so close that, within 30 minutes, we find ourselves standing in a great piazza, church, or neighborhood that we never knew existed.
And that is part of the fun of Puglia: the discovery of beautiful places without an itinerary.
My book is out NOW: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy."
More next time.