History of Altamura


See Altamura guide for highlights and historic monuments

Between the 6th and 3rd century BC imposing city walls (the so-called “megalithic walls”) were erected, which are still visible today in some parts of Altamura.

From the following century however, the city experienced a substantial decline, and it was only in the Middle Ages that Altamura regained some importance, thanks to Emperor Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250), who re-made the city, repopulating and calling it "Altamura" because of the presence of these high megalithic walls.

Many residents from the surrounding areas arrived in the new city, as did Greeks and Jews, the last of which occupied a district called "Giudecca" where they built a synagogue. Frederick II ordered the construction of the Cathedral  in 1232 that was destined to become one of the most revered shrines of Puglia.

The territory of Altamura was subsequently the domain of various noble families, in particular of the Orsini del Balzo and Farnese (1538-1734), who built numerous palaces and churches.

In 1734, after the marriage of Philip V (1683-1746) of Spain and Elisabetta Farnese (1692-1766), the city passed under Bourbon control. In the Napoleonic period it became a Republic, but then the intervention of the Papal troops commanded by Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo (1744-1827) brought the city under the Dominion of the Papal States.

With the unification of 1861 Altamura entered the Kingdom of Italy.

Origins of the name Altamura

It has been said that Altamura, in ancient times, was known as "Altilia", a name that, according to some scholars of the 19th century, derives from "Altea", Queen of the Myrmidons, who arrived here after the death of her son Meleager, and founded the city which was then named after her.

This hypothesis seemed strengthened by Latin verses engraved on a plaque on the door of the San Lorenzo Church 'extra moenia' ('outside the walls'), which say: “Mirmidonum genti sit laus et coelica vita” [“Both praise and Divine life to the noble lineage of Myrmidons”].

Apart from this fabulous story, there is the fundamental fact that the name "Altilia":

"[...] is not attested by the ancient authors, and Chiovilli conjectures that it derives from the Germanic 'al-teil' ('the ancient part'), a name imposed by Alzeco, the Duke of the Bulgarians, in the 7th century [...] " [1].

Other speculations aside, the name actually results from “altu” (trans: "high"), like other names derived from adjectives:

“Atamura is so called for its 'cyclopean' walls” [2].

See the Altamura guide if plaaning a visit.

References

1. See" Cultura e Scuola", 1993, p. 225

2. See G.B. Pellegrini, “Toponomastica Italiana” ["Italian toponymy"], Hoepli 1990: 236