Brindisi is an important city on the Adriatic coast of Southern Italy (in the Apulia region) and has a current population of just over 88,000. Brindisi’s natural port has played a major historical role in the development of the regio, due to its strategic position and active trade with Greece and other nations across the Adriatic Sea.
Speaking of Brindisi, the greek poet Lucan wrote: “ Beyond here the wide sea opens up in every direction…”.
Historically, legend has it that Brindisi was founded by the Messapics in the VIII century B.C. They called the town “Brunda” which means “head of deer” and refers to the shape of the harbour. Under the Messapics dominion it was the capital of Salento, but in 244 B.C. Brindisi was conquered by the Romans who turned it into a great commercial and military centre. It was finally connected to Rome by two roads: Via Traiana and Via Appia.
It was in that period that the two majestic columns were built in the town, defined by various scholars as the “terminal of the via Appia”. The Roman Columns were presumably realised around the 2nd and the 3rd century a.D. to celebrate the crucial importance of the port for the Roman expansion and its commercial traffics. In 1528, a static failure caused the collapse of the north-western column, which was later donated to the town of Lecce.
The Archaeological Museum F. Ribezzo is a great place to visit for those who love ancient history, to learn more about Messapians, Romans and Middle Age in Brindisi. It is conveniently located next to the Cathedral, in the centre of the old town. This museum provides fantastic insights into the city of Brindisi and its regional history. It contains a lot of interesting artefacts, displays and relics.
The museum in Brindisi actually contains a myriad of findings that have been pulled out from the harbour and the surrounding sea. In the museum you can find a range of ornate bronzes and stone statues, dating back to the Roman era, and also ceramics, coins, glassware, tombs and weaponry.
The underwater archaeology section is very peculariar. It includes the underwater excavation of Punta del Serrone, a place two miles north of the port of Brindisi, where several bronzes of considerable historical and artistic interest have been found.
Below the new Verdi theatre, in the heart of the historic centre, there is the very important archaeological site of the neighbourhood San Pietro degli Schiavoni. It represents a real cross-section of Brindisi during the Roman period. The name of the site comes from a small church dedicated to San Pietro (build during the 17th century, but of which there are no traces), while Schiavoni is the name of the Greek-Albanian people who lived here during the 16th century. The site has been discovered in the 60s, during the excavation works to build the new theatre, when they found old Roman domus. It is possible to see the streets, the houses and in particular the thermal baths, with the calidarium and the frigidarium.
“Giuseppe Verdi” Theatre is build above these ruins, designed by the architect Enrico Nespega.
The theater has a glass floor where it is possible to see the archaeological excavations.
From the middle of the V century, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gothes and the Byzantines fought over Brindisi. Later on Brindisi also experienced the invasions of the Longobards and of the Saracens. They sacked the town, massacred the inhabitants and forced them to slavery. Only in 1071, with the Norman dominion, Brindisi showed the first signs of a rise. The Norman princes were largely involved in the rebuilding of the town, as well as in the economical and commercial recovery. Around the end of the 11th century, the Norman prince Bohemond, who wanted to give thanks for the lucky success of the Crusade, rebuilt the ancient temple St. John at the Sepulchre. The building has a circular plan which replicates the Anastasis Rotunda, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The small garden in the back, which has recently been opened to visitors, is also pleasant.
They also restored the big Roman fountain of “Fontana Tancredi”, which took the name from the king who ordered its restoration in 1192.
In 1194-1196 the Swabians became the new rulers of the South Italy, after the marriage of Constance of Hauteville, who inherited the kingdom of Sicily, and Henry VI the Swabian, son of the famous Frederick “the red beard” (Barbarossa). Their son, Frederick II, built in a strategic position in the port a castle: the Swabian Castle (Castello Svevo). Nowadays the Castle is used by Naval Command.
In 1266/68 the Angevins succeeded the Swabians. Their kings continued to take great care of Brindisi: they built the Church of Saint Paul Heremit and the Church of S. Mary of Casale. From here the knights of the European noble families passed to go to fight in the Holy Land. In the same Church in 1310 took the process to the Templar Knights. They were condemned for heresy and idolatry.
The port of Brindisi has seen the transit of multitudes of people: emperors and popes, warriors and saints, great men and humble pilgrims, Julius Caesar at the time of the civil war, Saint Francis of Assisi on the way to the Holy Land. It was the Gateway to the East, the “Suitcase of the Indies” on the route between London and Bombay and now it is considered one of the best and most beautiful port in the world. This whole area is hugely interesting and a great place to simply walk and explore.
On the opposite side of the port you can find the National Monument of the Italian Sailor, one of the most iconic structures in the city. Together with the Romans Columns it is considered the symbol of the city. It was built in 1933 in the shape of a rudder, which stands 54 meters tall. A marble Our Lady statue has been put at the top of the monument in 1954.
You can either climb up the stairs or take an elevator to the top for a spectacular view over Brindisi’s waterfront. Enjoy the panorama: the view on the harbor is really exceptional!