Founded strategically along old communication routes and favoured by the presence of a bay, the ancient port is pleasing to the eye. Once considered one of the most important ports in the region, the distinct smell of fresh fish fills the air and the local fishermen tempt passers by into making a purchase. The port, filled with boats, has an air of calm and tranquillity about it. A selection of restaurants overlook the bay where it is pleasing and satisfying to sit and admire the scenery. In the evenings during the summer months, the area becomes a haven for groups of friends that meet up here to talk about their day as the port is lit up with lights illuminating the night sky.
One of the most entrancing views is the Romanesque Cathedral built in the 11th century, and in a favoured position right on the shore. The cathedral is dedicated to the town’s patron saint, San Nicola Pellegrino, the young pilgrim who died in 1094. History states that San Nicola arrived in Trani as a sign from God to “enrich the town”. Where the cathedral now dominates, was once the Episcopal Church of Santa Maria where San Nicola fell ill. Open to the public, the inside of the cathedral is equally as fascinating. Intricate architecture and decorations honouring a number of saints are plentiful. The Crypt of San Nicola Pellegrino, that was started in the early 12th century and finished in 1142, is a spacious and well-lit room consisting of 28 columns of Greek marble. The ethereal atmosphere pervades the interior.
Close to the cathedral and equally as impressive is the Castello Svevo, the castle built by Federico II in 1233. Situated on Piazzale Manfredi, named after Federico’s son, its four towers loom; set at each corner with the smaller towers facing towards the sea. The castle was once used for military purposes and public functions. During the 16th century the castle became a top security prison. Artefacts from the castle’s history can be found on display at the museum housed inside.
Overlooking the sea by the Chiesa di San Domenica is the Ville Communale public gardens that offers paths lined with flowers and rows of pine trees, and views of the sea and the small stretch of beach just below the Ville that attracts crowds during the summer months as temperatures rise.
Trani is divided into two parts, the main square with roads leading to each district of the town, to the enchanting nel centro storico, the old picturesque part of the town. It is here where time feels as though it is standing still. The narrow streets and echo of footsteps on the cobbles beneath your feet add to the feeling of having been transported back to an earlier century. This is emphasised by some of the buildings such as the beautiful church of Santa Maria della Colonna founded in 1098 by Benedictine nuns and has elaborate portal and a nave with a cross vault and two aisles inside. The streets in this part of the town seem to merge into one another and it would be easy to lose your bearings. As your turn a corner, you can come across an unexpected bar or gift shop such as La Maiolica on via La Gludea, a quiet but unique pottery shop with English speaking owners. English is an uncommon language in this part of Italy. In fact the local dialect, Tranese can be heard frequently amongst the older generation. This helps to add to the unique atmosphere of this historical town. Alluring in another sense, ancient Trani is captivating at night. The atmosphere is serene and incredibly quiet except for the occasional voice that can be heard coming from the stone built apartments.
Trani has an innocent charm that is reflected in its character and residents. The town maintains a welcoming feel by people that live in a ‘back to basics’ way without the commercialisation of larger towns. The supermarkets are compact and there is just one department store selling only clothes and accessories. Festivals honouring the Saints are frequent and bring the town to life. The weekly market is bustling and lines one of the main streets on the outskirts of the town. Filled with clothing for all ages as well as jewellery and general household items, the market is lively and busy.
Though lacking an a large variety of shops, Trani makes up for it in café bars. Popular with the young who regularly relax with friends before heading out for the evening, there is a bar for everyone and you will be hard pushed to find one that doesn’t emphasise the warmth of the Trani residents. A friendly chat, a suggestion on what to have if you can’t decide, and a smile ensures that you will return for more.
Trani offers a mixture of culture and history and provides a fascinating insight into part of Italy that has not been imposed upon by the larger modern cities. Although the town can be relatively busy during the day, when the afternoon approaches, shops close and families meet at home for lunch before siesta time until the town really comes to life in the evening. Driving through the town, friends beep their car horns as they see one another.
Trani is in a unique part of Italy, easily accessible by train on the way to Lecce and greets its visitors with warmth. This unspoilt part of Italy does not disappoint.