Monopoli's name belies its Greek origins - "monos polis" meaning unique city. Today's Monopoli is unique in that, unlike many of the other coastal towns in this area that are laid-back beach resorts, it is a bustling city with a commercial center. The new town sprawls out along the coast, but Monpoli retains its charming historic center and fishing tradition.
Founded by the Greeks, taken over by the Romans and beset by various invaders, Monopoli was a thriving port town under the Byzantines and Normans. In the 1400s it was annexed by the Republic of Venice, and enjoyed a centuries-long affluence that put it in league with other maritime powers like Amalfi Genoa and Venice. It's position in Puglia between the seas, made it strategic and prosperous.
The Porto Vecchio still harbors fishing boats as it has done for hundreds of years. Visit the beaches and inlets where the colorful crafts are docked and where fishermen still mend their nets. The Old Town is dominated by its still-solid castle, built in 1552. Castello Carlo V was erected by the Spanish rulers of the time as a stronghold on the sea. The octagonal fortress was isolated when it was built, then the town crowded in around it. The other distinctly visible monument is the cathedral and its towering belfry that rises high above the town. The Baroque-Romanesque church was built in 1693 and has frescoes depicting the four gospel-writing apostles. The decorative, light-filled interior is capped by a delicate-looking dome. The false-front protective wall was added to the right of the church to buffer the winds that descended on the facade.
The cathedral is dedicated to the Madonna della Madia, who arrived here by sea on December 15, 1117, according to legend, on a raft bearing 31 wooden beams for the roof supports of the basilica. The event is recreated annually during the patron saint's celebrations.
Just south of town is the abbey-castle of Santo Stefano, built in 1086 and placed on a point as a coastal defensive post. In the 13th century the Knights of Malta took it over and turned it into an abbey and hospital as a stop-over point for pilgrims and crusaders along the route to and from the Holy Land.
The city's coat of arms was bestowed by Frederick II and bears three white roses on a red background, a visual reminder of the town's long and storied past. The area is beautiful, with clear blue seas and miles of olives, orchards and almonds spreading out across the countryside just inland. Monopoli is near Polignano a Mare, Ostuni and Alberobello, and is equidistant from Bari and Brinidisi, both just 45 minutes away.