Polignano and Monopoli – Once a Shelter From Invaders and A Wanted Fishing Port
Slow down to appreciate the gentle pace of coastal life, where the sun and the sea dictate the course of the day
Tommaso, Giacomo and Agostino sit in the corner of a piazza in Polignano, faces carved by the sun. ‘We’ve been friend for 50 – wait, 60 – yearsʼ says Agostino, laughing, as if the time were too long even to contemplate. ‘When the sun turns that way, we sit over there.’ As across much of southern Europe, the square is a men-only club, while women tend to sit outside their houses. There’s a sunbleached quiet to the town, its pale, narrow streets in shadow, lanes that lead nowhere, and over it all, the half-hourly tolling of church bells. Mostly wedding-cake white, Polignano seems to have grown out of cavernous limestone sea cliffs.
Its top-of-the-world position was once its best means of survival, as Pugliese seaside towns were a favoured pitstop for Turkish pirates and other raiders in the Mediterranean’s more lawless days. A few centuries on, life is less fraught, with locals line-fishing from the cliffs, and the town elders keeping an eye on what’s up. This small town has movie-star looks, which is why it draws many of the region’s visitors. Wandering the streets you’ll hear Milanese, French and Spanish accents, and there’s a cosmopolitan feel about this sleepy place that’s almost contradictory. In the old town square, a gaggle of elderly ladies watch from a balcony as some passing Brazilians demonstrate capoeira.