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Bitonto is a town in the Puglia (Apulia) region of south-east Italy, a little way in from the Adriatic coast, and well known for the cultivation of olives and related production of the excellent olive oil from the many olive trees that surround the town.
Among its other highlights, Bitonto is well known for its museums and archaeological area, which form a highlight of a visit. This 'Museum Centre' is based on the towns history and locally found artefacts. The Archdiocese of Bari and Bitonto has two exhibitions of high value here, including the Cathedral archaeological area.
The Diocesan Museum exhibits works of sacred art including a 13th century wooden icon of the Virgin “Odegitria”; an important 13th century painting depicting St. Francis; some frescos from the churches of Bitonto; a painted cross dating from the 15th century; a sizeable group of paintings by Carlo Rosa; and a lapidary consisting of the remains of the medieval decoration of the Cathedral and sculptural elements dating from the 18th century.
Cathedral archaeological area
Below the cathedral, which is itself a fine example of the Apulian Romanesque style, recent excavations allow us to visit a series of fascinating churches.
First, you can see the remains of an 11th century church, with a famous mosaic depicting the “Grifo” [“Snout”] in its atrium. Below this pre-Romanic Basilica the pre-existing Christian Church is visible, also characterized by a mosaic floor as well as important fragments of frescos from the early Middle Ages.
The interior, in so-called Pal-Christian style, holds the baroque tombs of two bishops, and the Pergamon, from 1240 and consisting of pieces from an ancient altar which was destroyed. Two staircases, placed in the bottom of the aisles, descend to the crypt.
Bitonto has also two other museums. The Torrione Angioino is a cylindrical tower which dates back to the 14th century and at more than 24m high was originally used as a watchtower, although the underground part was soon used as a prison. Recent works have brought to light the original moat with the pentagonal tower, and the structure will be devoted to the Museum Centre for Contemporary Art.
The Archaeological Museum of the De Palo-Ungaro Foundation is located in the 19th quarter of the city, a few steps from the Old Town. Opened in 2000, it features two permanent exhibitions, called “The Ancient Peuceti in Bitonto” and “Women and Warriors from Ruvo and Bitonto”.
The exhibits here date from the 6th-3rd century BC and all come from local Necropolis discovered along the route of the “Via Traiana”. The numerous funerary exposed are rich in metallic and ceramic finds that allow us to trace the economic and social development of the Peuceti civilization and to understand their habits and customs.
Bitonto churches and religious buildings
Among the religious buildings in Bitinto note first the Church of San Gaetano, built in 1609 in Baroque style and inaugurated in 1703.
It is situated where the ancient Palace of the University previously stood, and has a single nave divided by columns in four arches. The altar is of Baroque style and inside there are many frescos depicting various Saints.
The Church of the Crucifix was consecrated in 1671. The façade is divided into two zones, and the plan is in the shape of a Greek cross and has a central dome. On the central altar there is a representation of the deposition of the cross.
Finally, also very interesting are the Church and the Monastery of Saint Leo. The first known information about the Church of San Leone appeared in a diplomats code from Bari and dates from 1105, and for the monastery, the oldest in Bitonto, we have traces from 1148.
The legacies of the Norman period increased the power of Bitonto Monastery of Saint Leo. In 1494 Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) granted the Olivetan Monastery to the congregation, that took possession of it. The monastery was later enlarged and a large cloister with 36 bays added. Abandoned by the monks of San Leone, the building and the Church fell into ruin until at the end of the 16th century a community of monks called "Observant" formed, who restored the ancient and glorious Monastery.
Among the archaeological sites in Bitonto is a necropolis dating back to the 7th century, which occupies a large area situated beyond the river called Tiflis. Here is the Temple of Minerva, who was considered to be the Protector not only of Bitonto, but also of the “Apuli”.
An ancient temple dedicated to the goddess was situated on the “Via Appia” that ran from Ruvo to Bari, where the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli is now situated . Its existence is confirmed by some features depicted on a cubic stone from the Roman period wedged behind the outer walls of the sacristy of the present Church.
Palaces and civic monuments
There are numerous civil palaces in Bitinto, such as the Palazzo Sylos-Calò, of late Renaissance style, built around the early 16th century. It has a rather erratic façade spread over two levels, that overlooks a square courtyard with a loggia, rich with bas-reliefs and busts of the Renaissance age and a portalof Gothic-Catalan style.
The Palazzo Sylos-Vulpano is considered to be a real Italian national monument because it is a rare example of the local Renaissance architecture. It was built in the early 15th century by the Vulpano family, starting from an existing medieval tower. The courtyard is famous for the loggia decorated with bas-reliefs.
One of the oldest theatres in the province was built in 1635 and inaugurated in 1638 by some noble families of Bitonto. The theatre “Traetta” is a small building of neoclassical style (the theatre closed after a collapse in 1972, only reopening in 2005).
Bitonto Olives and local produce
The local agricultural production is based around olives and their famous extra virgin olive oil and the olive tree was a symbol of Bitonto on the coins of the city as early as the 3rd century BC. Local agriculture also includes almond trees, vines, vegetables, grain, and livestock including sheep and cattle.
The cookery of Bitonto fits in the great tradition of Apulian gastronomy, best known for its simplicity and authenticity. As elsewhere in the region, at Bitonto you can enjoy dishes based on fresh fish and molluscs, and of course dishes that incorporate the exceptional olive oil, such as soups.
See also history of Bitonto.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Puglia guide.