Altamura is an important historical town situated in the heart of the Puglia (Apulia) region of south-east Italy best known for its cathedral and Museum of Archaeology.
Ancient History in Altamura
Established as a settlement since ancient times, it is part of a traditional agricultural centre between the Upper Murgia and Basilicata regions that developed around the ancient settlement of the “Peucezi” people.
This ancient settlement was originally surrounded by megalithic walls built in the 5th – 3th century BC, and parts of which are still visible in the road called ‘Corso Umberto I’. See history of Altamura for a more detailed guide to the ancient origins of the town.
Explore Altamura: tourism and travel guide
Start your visit in Cathedral Square. In the middle of the square there is a ‘monument to the fallen’ from 1799 by sculptor Arnaldo Zocchi.
Altamura Cathedral is at the heart of the city and was built between 1232 and 1242 by Frederick II of Swabia, who dedicated it to the Virgin.
The façade, dominated by its two towers, has a portal that dates from the 14th century, and is carved with scenes from the New Testament while the rose window dates from the 16th century.
The rose window in the facade is a rare example of 14th century Apulian style and there is also a Gothic portal, probably from the early 15th century. It is rich with decorations and sculptures, contained in a projecting porch supported on two stone lions, redone in 1533 and guarding the entrance to the Cathedral.
Carved on the arches of the portal are 22 scenes of Jesus’ life from birth until the death and resurrection.
Inside the church you can also admire the stone pulpit of 1545, the choir of 1543, which consists of 68 stalls walnut wood and stone, and, above all, the crib of 1587, a work of master Altobello Persio (1507-1593).
Other Altamura highlights
In the ‘Corso Federico II of Swabia’ is the Greek Church of San Nicola dei Greci. The portal, built in 1576, is carved with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, while the interior contains Baroque altars and a wood ceiling.
At the Porta Matera you can visit the Church of Saint Maria del Soccorso, today called “San Francesco di Paola” (dating from the 16th -18th century), annexed to the monastery that was expanded in 1872.
On the 16th century cloister capitals you can see the Farnese coat of arms (six golden lilies on an azure field, with the addition of a silver cross on a red field). Note also the balcony overlooking the garden which is very well decorated.
The 16th century church and convent of San Domenico in the Piazza Zanardelli opens on to public gardens. The interior of the Church has paintings and marble altars and a tiled floor from the mid-18th century.
Continuing along the “Via Corte d’Appello”, which leads from Piazza Duomo to Piazza Don Minzoni are the 17th century monastery and Church of Santa Chiara which now gives hospitality to a community of nuns.
While you are here you should also visit the Altamura Municipal Museum which is an impressive archaeology museum with many artefacts from the region dating back up to 2500 years.
The museum is in five sections arranged on two floors, to cover the paleolithic, prehistoric, archaic, classical and Hellenistic Ages. The Exhibition Hall, with an exhibition of the ‘Prehistory of food’ is open to the public, and in the porch there is a small section with some Roman funeral inscriptions.
On the back of the building there are some remains of archaeological excavations conducted in various locations near Altamura. Among the most famous archaeological remains of Altamura are the Man of Altamura*. The archaeological find, uncovered in the cave of “Lamalunga” is one of the most extraordinary paleo-ontological discoveries in Europe.
* The skeleton is that of an adult male, height from 160 to 165 cm, whose skull has elements of the Neanderthal population, and forms of the Homo erectus (400,000 years ago).
Relax in Altamura
Altamera is known as the ‘city of bread’ and its bread making traditions and reputation has existed for centuries. In 37 BC Horace told travellers that it is “far the best bread to be had” and advised travellers to stock up before they leave. Modern day travellers would be well advised to do the same. The bread is so good, along with the foccachia, mozarella and a local mushroom, that Altamura’s McDonalds restaurant was forced to close after just two years – unable to compete with the local foods!
The “bread of Altamura”, is a course-grain bread made from wheat flour nd baked in old wood-burning ovens. The town is also known for a traditional peasant dish made of stale bread – the so-called “cialledda”.
Other typical local dishes include the “orecchiette” and “capunti” mushroom, “u cutturidde” (boiled lamb with wild herbs) and the lamb of the “rezzaule”. Also to be tasted locally are the asparagus, “carboncelli” and “chicory”, “ricotta”, and the almond sweets, the “griselle” and “mustazzèle” (mixed with grape wine and figs).
The so-called “Father Peppe” (a liqueur made from walnuts infused) is the most famous liquor in Altamura. In general, local wines are very ‘vigorous’.