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A day with history, archelogical and nature: the medieval BARSENTO’s Santa Maria Abbey.

A day with history, archelogical and nature: the medieval BARSENTO’s Santa Maria Abbey.

December 2019 · 5 min read · Apulia

Lovers of photography will understand me: every occasion is the right chance to bring home some new photos and go somewhere nice.
In my last post I used a missed appointments to visit to the village of Noci (Apulia region, Italy) and share it with you through photography.. this time I took advantage of a bike ride for visiting a place which fascinated me and certainly has left an indelible memory in my heart.

I'm talking about the BARSENTO’s Santa Maria Abbey, of mediaeval origin and surrounded by an area that has become "Regional Natural Reserve" (the natural oasis of Barsento).

The reason for the emotions I've felt in this place is almost inexplicable. A kind of empathy at first sight due also to the particularly beautiful natural context in which this Abbey is integrated.
The impression was I had gone back in time.. to the Middle Ages!

But maybe I should take a step back and tell you how I ended up there... to this medieval abbey!

The day was not expected to be the best, the weather called for mild thunderstorms that morning and a bitter wind swept the streets of Bari (my city).
I had an appointment with my brother-in-law, resident in a small village in the hinterland, for a bike ride. We usually cycle between 50 and 70 kilometres through the cycling routes present in the area within the Itria Valley, looking for some "gems" to visit in a brief stop in the bike ride.

Especially the neighbourhood around Alberobello is rich in farmhouses dating back to the Middle Ages, of archaeological excavations and areas nestled in the beautiful nature of the Murgia in which the biking efforts are quick to forget about thanks to the beauty of the surrounding landscape!

Although a bit demoralized by the weather we decide to go anyway and on the road connecting Noci to Alberobello there appeared a sign indicating the presence of an abbey: BARSENTO’s Santa Maria!
After having done a short climbing along the path, we reach a parking lot outside of abbey's complex.

No car in the parking, no one outside the abbey's forecourt.. just a lot of cuddly kittens who approached us with no fear and I think they were searching for food.
We did a few more steps before there appeared BARSENTO’s Santa Maria Abbey!

I cannot hide it, I got a huge kick out.. the Church seemed to a basilica-shaped Romanic style building, with the characteristic roofs made of stone slabs that progressively overlap each other that bring the trulli of Alberobello to mind.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to see the inside as there was no one on the spot to ask to open the gate but from the outside the division into three naves may be observed in spite of small size.

Some elements of the church were definitely later addition; its belltower (a "vela" monoforo), for example, still carrying its small bell is dated back to the XV century.
The white stones of the walls of the church, as well as the whole farmhouse, become almost dazzling in broad daylight offering a fascinating eye-catcher!

Despite its simplicity, the cross above the main entrance has a strong emotional impact; it was itself a later addition too.

The area of Barsento is located halfway between Bari and Taranto, on Murgia foreland, between the town of Noci, Putignano, Alberobello and Gioia del Colle at 420 meters above sea-level.

The whole area is surrounded by trees and a vast expanse of Mediterranean vegetation and certainly is no exception the Abbey.
In the fall, the dry branches of the trees give a glimpse of the entire abbey complex, but no doubt that Barsento's Abbey natural surroundings are hard to beat in springs.

It is an area of outstanding beauty stood out for its many centuries old holm oak woods ensuring shaded areas and create a highly evocative atmosphere. Inside the wood, old "tratturi" (sheep trails) and historical paths suggest the main connection routes that in very ancient time, connecting the abbey and the surrounding area.
Although we tried to follow this centuries-old paths, we had to surrender almost immediately since our bikes were not suitable for that kind of routes.

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The wildlife is also very diverse thanks to the presence of some of the most common species on the Murgia such as foxes, hedgehogs, weasels, lizards, magpies and sparrows.

A brief mention at the story of the medieval BARSENTO’s Santa Maria Abbey. It was presumably constructed in 591 BC but unfortunately there is no certainty of that date since there are no historical documents to witness it.
Most probably it dates back to XI century when the Abbey was at an important crossroads also thanks to its strategic position on a hill overlooking the surrounding valley.

Archaeological finds attest that the area has been inhabited since Messapians and in pre-Roman times.

Next to the main entrance of the church it's placed a stone slab with writings difficult to understand due to wear of time but presumably (on the basis of several deciphering attempts) state as follows:


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"In the year of Jesus Christ incarnation's MCC... Barsitana Communitas (The Community of Barsento)"

Just enough time to take some more pictures and the weather had really changed.. the blue of the sky that welcomed us at our entrance to the Abbey had been replaced by a blanket of threatening clouds!
And since 30 km separated us from home, reluctantly we were back in the saddle and we left with the hope to return soon.

I'm sure this place will always be in my heart.. so if you are in the area and if you get a chance, I suggest you to spend some time here for a leisurely outing!

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