Reflections on Puglia

I am very sorry for the sporadic updates. Spring is definitely a busy season for both work and social lives, but I promise I had a good reason…like traveling to Italy for a week!

I spent last week on a family vacation in the Puglia region of Italy, and I spent a great deal of time observing and reflecting on urban life there. For those of you who do not already know (or me 5 months ago), the region of Puglia makes up the heel of the Italy’s boot and is located on the Adriatic Sea. It [produces] fantastic wine and most of the produce that feeds the rest of Italy.

As per usual, my parents are gung ho for almost any athletic activity during vacations (our last family vacation involved running the Disney Princess Half Marathon). So for this trip, we spent 3 days biking through the countryside and small towns of the region. Biking is not my best activity. In fact, I fall into the barely able to keep balance category of cyclers, which meant that as the rest of my family was looking at the scenery, my eyes were set firmly on the road. I did enjoy the biking section, but I do not think my experience was at the same level as the rest of my family’s’ enjoyment.

Hands down, the best part of the trip was the food. The second best part was experiencing the cities and villages that we stayed in and rode through. And since this is not a food blog, I thought I would talk about the cities.

The great thing about traveling to Europe from the United States is the ability to see towns that have structures from the 18th, 15th, and even 12th centuries all in one place. Unlike in the USA, the city centers of Puglia tend to be medieval and the style of architecture, roads, and city planning tends to change the further away you are from the historic center. In fact, buildings grow taller the further away you are versus in the major cities of the US, where buildings are taller, and possibly newer, the closer you are to the center of the city. It is such an interesting aspect because it tells the story of the city and its development, long before zoning was concrete thing and cities grew semi-organically.

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The streets in these old town centers are shared by cars, bikes, mopeds, and pedestrians. Their layout is confusing with twists and turns and plazas scattered throughout. There are rarely sidewalks and very few signs and markings on the streets to let you know where cars are going. During the biking portion of our trip, it often felt like we were going in circles within the town in an effort to reach the next country road due to all the one-way streets. This feeling was made even more acute when we would bike up and down the same hill multiple times on different roads. Then there were the historic centers with streets that turned into steps at hills instead of ramps, which has rendered large portions of the area/neighborhood as strictly pedestrian.

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I was impressed by the variety of towns and cities that we went to. These locales show the great ingenuity of humans to create shelters and functioning communities in a great variety of ways. There is adaptability and change in urban planning and no one outlook, theory, or procedure is correct or the best. We saw a city that started its life as an island, a walled city, a city of caves, a city of “temporary” stone huts, and a of course, a picturesque city. In order, these cities are Gallipoli, Otranto, Matera, Alberobello, and Locorotondo. These cities have different reasons for why they developed how they did–often for protection. I hope to delve into several of them in the near future and provide more in-depth descriptions of their stories. This post serves as a jumping off point and a space of initial observations.

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