Ostuni, known in Italian as the Città Bianca, or the “White City” due to its blindingly white stone buildings, white-washed houses, and cobblestone alleys. It is one of the most fascinating destinations in all of Puglia and to top it all off, it’s only a few kilometers from the magnificent Adriatic Sea. Whether it’s a day trip or your main destination, let’s find out what to see when visiting Ostuni!
Ostuni’s Historic Center
The old historic center of Ostuni, which is the main tourist attraction, is known as Terra by the locals even though it actually sits at about 200 meters above sea level. It is a walled city with portions of the original wall dating back to the Messapians who founded the city in pre-antiquity, or as early as 1,000 BC. Ostuni’s other inhabitants, including the Ostrogoths, Lombards, Moors, and the Spanish, continued to rebuild and reinforce its walls over the centuries.
This area is considered part of the vast plateau known as Murgia which, in these parts, is not particularly fertile. From the numerous vantage points in the town center, you’ll have a view of vast olives groves, trulli houses, centuries-old oaks, and of course, the sea.
It is nearly impossible not to fall in love with Ostuni- for its infinite charm, its sense of purification, its simplicity. The narrow streets, known as vicoli, climb, zig-zag, and criss-cross and seemingly, lead nowhere. They are all dead ends. It’s true. Yet, you won’t feel lost; actually, you might feel just the reverse. There is a sense of “home” here.
The Duomo, or the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (Mary of the Assumption), is the focal point. The original church was actually built around the year 1,000 AD but was completely rebuilt after the earthquake of 1456 that struck Brindisi. It was rebuilt in Gothic style in the late 1400s and its characteristic rose window was added.
In the same piazzetta (“little square”), you’ll also find the Bishop’s Palace dating to the mid-1700s as well as the Seminary Palace dating to the early 1700s. The two buildings are connected by a loggia.
Piazza della Libertà
Piazza della Libertà is considered to be the heart of the historic center and where most of the most important monuments (with the exception of the Duomo) are located. You’ll immediately notice the obelisk dedicated to one of Ostuni’s patron saints, Saint Oronzo. Behind it, is the lovely church of Santo Spirito built in the 1600s. The portal actually dates to 1450 and was moved from another church.
The Municipal Palace or Town Hall was originally a Franciscan monastery dating to the early 1200s until it was completely restored in Neo-Classic style in the 1800s. Right next to it, lies the church of San Francesco which was of course part of the original monastery and has since been remodeled numerous times.
There are three major museums in Ostuni for those who would like to dig deeper into this fascinating part of Italy. The first, like many major attractions in Italy, goes by two names which can be confusing even to Italian tourists. The Civic Museum (Museo Civico) or the Museum of Preclassical Civilizations in Southern Murgia (Museo di Civiltà Preclassiche della Murgia Meridionale) are one and the same. Once you get past the name confusion, it is well worth your time to visit. It includes exhibits and artifacts ranging from the Paleolithic Period through modern times with fascinating pieces that were recovered from natural grottoes including the remains of a 20-year old woman over 25,000 years old.
About 2 km outside the city walls lies the archaeological site of Agnano which is where many of the artifacts and human remains were recovered. Under normal circumstances, it can be visited on Sundays by reservation only.
The Diocesan Museum (Museo Diocesano) is located in the same piazzetta as the Duomo and holds numerous pieces of precious art and artifacts dating to the Messapic civilization and even earlier. The Anatomical Crucifix in Wax is considered a masterpiece as well as the Living Statue of the Virgin Mary of the Rosary.
It goes without saying that anyone in their right mind who visits Ostuni also comes for the stunning beaches for which the entire region of Puglia is so famous.
The coastline that makes up Ostuni includes about 20 km of pristine waters and shores that have continuously been awarded the Blue Flag Award. Lido Morelli which is part of the Area Protetta del Parco delle Dune Costiere or a protected area of natural dunes is at the northernmost point of the coastline. The entire area from Morelli to Lamaforca is dotted with bathing establishments, bars, restaurants, camping, and pretty much everything your heart could desire for the perfect summer holiday. You’ll also spot the Villanova Castle and port as well as two other towers, San Leonardo and Pozzelle.
Ostuni, like so many parts of Italy, was only recently discovered by tourists and now sometimes goes by the name of “Ostunishire”, a play on words for the number of British ex-pats that have bought homes here. In addition to the locals, the town often swells from 30,000 to over 100,000 in the peak tourist season of July and August. If at all possible, it is best to visit during the off-season when you can still enjoy wonderful weather such as during the months of May or October.
The closest airport to Ostuni is Brindisi but Bari is better-connected and you can get a train or a rental car from both. Note that many tourists prefer Brindisi because it is much smaller and less chaotic for your arrival and eventual departure from the city with a rental car. If you plan to travel at all within the area, it is highly recommended that you do hire a car since Puglia is not very well serviced with public transportation or trains.
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