San Nicandro, Italy: travel guide for the Puglia town of San Nicandro Garganico

Photo of San Nicandro (Puglia region)

Visit San Nicandro

San Nicandro Garganico is an ancient town to the north of the Gargano peninsula in Puglia in south-east Italy, situated between Lake Lesina and Lake Varano and a few kilometres from the Adriatic coast.

The town name is also sometimes abbreviated to Sannicandro.

Explore San Nicandro Garganico: tourism and travel guide

The oldest part of the old town in San Nicandro Garganico is called Terravecchia and is a district that has preserved the layout of a typical medieval center, with houses built on different levels and joined by steep stairs. The Terravecchia village is surrounded by walls and occupies a well preserved site dominated by the castle. It is the castle in the centre of San Nicandro and the historic village of Terravecchia which form the centre of your visit.

San Nicandro castle

San Nicandro castle as we see it today dates from the 15th century although it was built on the site of a much more ancient fortress dating from the Swabian period.

The castle is trapeze shaped with four corner towers, and was renovated during the 17th century. On the north side there are two square towers, one of which is one of the original towers, while on the south side there are two round towers built by the Aragonese which are behind the church.

The castle, which was actually built as a mansion, was the usual residence of the Della Marra and all the vassals of San Nicandro Garganico until the time of the Cattaneo Princes. In the 16th century the castle was integrated with the gateway to the east and the lodge was built that connected the castle with a large palace built between the door and the walls of the castle.

The Fioritto Palace was also built in this period, near the west wall and now the seat of the Municipal Library and Museum.

San Nicandro Museum

The museum in San Nicandro Garganico is divided into several sections, and contains numerous artefacts relating to local history. It includes a collection of lithic material (arrowheads, scrapers, and flint blades) found in caves in the region, and pottery and stone slabs engraved with Latin inscriptions dating back to the first century BC.

A substantial section of the museum is devoted to the so-called 'Peasant Civilization' with exhibits dating back to the 19th century (exhibits including the tools used for working in the fields and farmhouses at that time).

Other sections of the museum hold artefacts related to popular religion, while a final section is devoted to local Judaism (in San Nicandro there was a large group of converts to Judaism).

The cathedral church

Among the religious buildings of considerable merit in the village you should first visit the Cathedral Church, dating from the second half of the 16th century (and really a collegiale church rather than a cathedral). This church has a basilica plan with three naves, divided by twelve pillars and a vault (built in the second half of the 19th century). The façade, rectangular in shape and with three aisles, is entirely made up of square blocks of stone.

The central portal is of late Renaissance style and dominated by an open arched pediment above which you can see the insignia of Bishop Morelli and a plaque which commemorates the rebuilding of the church in 1693.

The square bell tower a few meters to the northeast of the church is of the same style as the façade and divided into three sections by two ledges. The bell is in the last section, and on top of the tower are an octagonal spire and a sundial. On the west side, parallel to the church and joined to it by three arches that open into the aisle, are three chapels. The church also has a fine series of wooden statues in Baroque style, by the Neapolitan school and dating back to the late 18th century.

Other religious monuments in San Nicandro Garganico

Another remarkable religious building in San Nicandro is the Church of Our Lady of the Carmine. A pre-existing Church of the Carmine, built in 1651 to the west of the castle, was destroyed by the aerial bombardment that hit San Nicandro during World War II.

The Church of the Crucifix is also interesting - especially the history of its name. This church was originally called the Church of Purgatory because it was built on the place where, in the 14th century, a niche was found with its interior surfaces covered by a Byzantine-style painting, depicting “Christ on the Cross between four saints and the souls in Purgatory". It took the name "Church of the Crucifix" when a Capuchin friar brought in a relic of the SS. Cross of Christ, which was set in a silver cross.

We should also give a brief mention of the Church of the Holy Spirit, located in the old town on the place where the first church in the region once stood. This church was dedicated to San Nicandro, the patron saint of the town to which he gives his name.

The Jews of San Nicandro

In the 1930s a WW1 veteran had a vision and embraced Judaism. He converted many of his neighbours and they upheld their homemade version of the Jewish faith throughout the difficult years of fascism and WW2. In the 1940s they were recognised by the Italian Jewish community and converted officially to Judaism. This is the only case of collective conversion to Judaism known in modern times and has been the subject of a book called 'The Jews of San Nicandro' and a documentary 'The mystery of San Nicandro'.

Traditions and cuisine

Well known in Italy for the production of dried flowers, a trip to San Nicandro is also recommended for the hilly landscapes that stretch around the town and are rich in almond orchards, vineyards and olive groves. On the crest of one of these hills, the mountain of Elio, is the ancient Romanesque church of Santa Maria di Monte d'Elio.

Sannicandro is also famous for its numerous sinkholes and potholes: in its territory are the caves of “Pian della Macina” and the “Dolina Pozzatina”. Some of these caves are also important archaeological sites in which various finds have been made dating from Lombard times.

Finally, while you are at San Nicandro Garganico be sure to sample the local cuisine. Among the popular dishes try the so-called “cicerchie”, made from chickpeas, broad beans and lentils. It is eaten boiled, and seasoned with plenty of olive oil.

Regarding the name of the town it is not entirely clear which Saint the name refers to because there are at least three different saints with this name (see also history and etymology of San Nicandro Garganico). Note: photo is copyright.

See also:

Map of San Nicandro and places to visit

San Nicandro places to visit

See more places nearby in the Puglia guide