Bari is the capital city of Puglia in southern Italy and over its years as the most important port on the Adriatic it acquired a rich and varied architectural legacy. Chief among these is the landmark grandeur of the Basilica di San Nicola in Barivecchia, the centro storico that lies at the heart of the modern city. Some 150 years in the making, the cathedral was completed in 1197, when Bari was under Norman rule; it is a fine example of Puglian-Romanesque architecture with a squat, austere and simple façade. Inside there’s a fine mosaic floor, clearly showing Turkish influence, plus a fine altar and a carved 12th-century stone bishops’ throne, supported by comedic sagging figures.
The basilica is a point of pilgrimage for both Catholic and Orthodox Christians as it contains the relics of St Nicholas, which were stolen in the 11th century from his original resting place in Myra in present day Turkey. He is patron saint of Bari but better known across the English-speaking world as Santa Claus or Father Christmas, provider of much excitement for children come December 24. His remains are found in the crypt, which is adorned with carved columns and gleaming icons; it is believed that myrrh seeps constantly from his body, a legend celebrated on December 6 along with solemn processions through the city.
The Basilica di San Nicola is at Largo Abate Elia 13
and is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and on Sunday until 10 p.m. Admission is free.