Bari – Barivecchia – a walk around the old town

Barivecchia, also know as Quartiere San Nicola, was once quite dodgy, virtually a no-go area for tourists at night. Nowadays, thanks to redevelopment, it’s much safer, though still a thoroughly working class area.

There’s little point using a map in this warren of alleys and narrow streets. It’s best just to wander around and try to keep a sense of direction.

Here’s my Google map anyway.

Good luck asking for directions. The Barese are nationally famous for having a strong dialect, but within Bari itself, the inhabitants of Barivecchia are renowned for having a lexis that even the rest of the city finds hard to understand. Personally I find both the people and the place fascinating.

The logical place to start a walk is in the Piazzas Ferrarese and Mercantile, the two main squares in the heart of the old town. They blend into each other imperceptibly and are effectively two sides of the same square. This is where many Barese, especially the youth, come to socialise on a warm evening.

In Piazza Mercantile you can see the Palazzo della Provincia and its clock tower, once the home of the provincial administration, built in 1936.


In Piazza Mercantile you can see La Colonna della Giustizia, ‘the column of justice’.


It was a stone punishment pole to which fraudulent debtors were tied and lashed.


Around the square you’ll see women selling the traditional local street food, sgagliozze, aka fried polenta cubes. Polenta is slowly growing on me (love it with kale and blue cheese) but I don’t see what the fuss is about here. I think you probably have to be brought up on the stuff to fully appreciate it.

Both piazzas are lined with restaurants, a couple of which are recommended by various guides. While I might come here for a drink I personally would avoid most of the eateries around here. They’re not bad, just very average in my opinion (see my Barivecchia – eating cheaply in the old town post for some alternatives).

The next main sight is the Duomo di Bari, or Cattedrale di San Sabino, built in the late 12th century.

The streets around here are very atmospheric, especially at night.

Just a short distance away is the Castello Svevo di Bari

It was built in 1132 by the Normans.

With your back to the bridge going over the moat to the entrance of the castle you will notice two archways leading into the old town. The first one on the left is called Arco Basso which is the street of the pasta makers.

You’ll see their wares drying in mesh bottomed boxes on the street.

I bought 500g each of Cavatelli and ‘Macaroni’ for €2 and €2.50 respectively which for an artisan product is, as we say in Yorkshire, as cheap as chips. Keep them out of the plastic bag for a while though so the pasta can dry completely, unless you’re cooking it straight away.

Another nice church is the Basilica San di Nicola (admission free).

This is where the relics of Father Christmas are kept.

So lots to see and do. You might want to merge the walk with grazing on some food, for which see my post Barivecchio-Eating Cheaply in the Old Town.

4 thoughts on “Bari – Barivecchia – a walk around the old town”

  1. A very timely post for me, as in May we’re off to Bari for a week’s visit (I’ve taken the precaution of being in France from the 23rd March so there should be no post-Brexit travel problems). We’ll be staying in a place near the Duomo owned by a distant relative of one of my favourite writers of recent years, Gianfranco Carofiglio. His books, set in Bari and with a lot about Barivecchia, are well worth reading. Although they probably count technically as ‘gialli’ (thrillers – so called for the yellow covers favoured by Italian publishers for this kind of book) they’re a good deal more sophisticated than that. Mostly about a defence lawyer called Guido Guerrieri, they are intense psychological studies of the narrators and the people they meet and meditations on the nature of right and wrong in everyday life in Italy today. This may sound a bit forbidding but Carofiglio is an inspired writer. As one reviewer noted: ‘All of Carofiglio’s characters have a story to tell and they are all well worth listening to’. He also knows of what he writes because he’s a former Anti-Mafia prosecutor in Puglia as well as, until recently, a member of the Italian Senate. They’re also enlivened by hilarious anecdotes about some of Guerrieri’s more floridly eccentric clientele.

    I’ll certainly check out your recommendations for eating in Barivecchia and see if I can find any additional ones.

    1. Think you’ll really like Bari if you’ve not been before. Please do check the older Bari posts as I’ve updated them recently. The Eating Cheaply in the Old Town post is especially useful. Osteria del Travi is my favourite cheapie but for something more upmarket, Pignato in Murat is great too, if it’s still open.

      I did get a book you recommended but it’s still in the unread pile. All this blog writing keeps getting in the way 😀

      1. The best place to begin with Carofiglio is probably the first of the Guido Guerrieri novels: Involuntary Witness as knowledge of events in this helps understand the themes of the later ones. It’s also a very good book, not a mystery but a combination of a legal thriller and a story of personal redemption and recovery. Far, far better than Grisham and his clones (apart from Scott Turow) although the translation is not good. Then my personal choices would be A Walk in the Dark and Temporary Perfections. All of his books contain a great detail of detail about Bari itself, especialy the Old Town, none more so than one written with his brother: Neither Here Nor Elsewhere: A Night in Bari. I’m looking forward to finding the late night bookshop and coffee bar (Guerrieri suffers from insomnia) which is not so much a location as a character in the GG novels.

  2. PS I love the way very old churches in Italy often have animals of some kind or other (lions, horses etc) bursting out of the walls with facial expressions that seem to dare you to look surprised.

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