Italy is rich in UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other architectural marvels, and the southern state of Puglia—the heel in Italy’s boot—is no exception. From a distinctive series of castles built by Emperor Frederick II to its conical trulli houses, here are some of Puglia’s must-see architectural attractions.
Trulli of Alberobello
No structures are more symbolic of Puglia than trulli. These humble stone huts, which have been built in the Itria Valley for thousands of years, are notable for their distinct, conical shapes. Venture to Alberobello to see some of the finest specimens—they’ve held UNESCO World Heritage status since 1996.
From the outside, the Otranto Cathedral—first built by the Normans in the 11th century and featuring Romanesque design elements—might look like any other Italian church. But wander in and you’ll discover an extraordinary medieval mosaic on its floors, depicting the Tree of Life. Adding to the church’s lore is its macabre skull chapel, where the bones of victims of an Ottoman siege can still be viewed.
Castel del Monte
Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II was known as a prominent patron of the arts in medieval Europe, and he also oversaw the construction of numerous castles, forts, and cathedrals across southern Italy. Located near Bari, the UNESCO-listed Castel del Monte is one of the finest, an eight-sided fortress whose design combines numerous architectural traditions.
Basilica di Santa Croce
If the Castel del Monte is all geometric sleekness, Lecce’s Basilica di Santa Croce is its opulent opposite. The façade of this baroque basilica is ornamented with incredibly detailed, even playful, stone carvings that depict everything from vegetables to exotic animals. Its ornate interior is also worth exploring.
Santuario di San Michele
The UNESCO-listed Santuario di San Michele, located in Monte Sant’Angelo, is a likely stop on any architecture walking tour in Puglia. Legend has it that the archangel Michael left an imprint of his foot in the church’s rock-hewn grotto; in the ensuing centuries, pilgrims left behind their own commemorative footprints.
Ostuni Old Town
Beyond any individual structure, Ostuni’s Old Town offers a singular setting all its own. Poised on a hilltop and protected by fortress walls, its brilliant white-washed buildings, all tightly squeezed together, have earned it the nickname of "the White City."