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History of Monopoli
Monopoli is a charming seaside town in southern Italy, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Named by previous Greek settlers, the town’s name is a tribute to its Greek origins. The name Monopoli is derived from monos polis, which means ‘unique city’. Monopoli is not just a relaxed beach resort, it’s also a bustling agricultural, industrial and tourist centre. This unique arrangement inspired its name.
Tourists visit the enjoy the unique rustic Baroque style architecture, which is interspersed with the whitewash of Greek buildings. You can also visit churches, rock settlements, aristocratic villas, oak woods and secular olive trees. The most popular tourist attraction is Castello Carlo V, the octagonal castle in the Old Town.
Like many other places in southern Italy, Monopoli was founded by the Greeks. The area was first settled in about 500 BC as a fortified Messapian city. It then came under Roman rule. When the Romans fell, it changed hands several times, briefly coming under the rule of the Goths, Byzantines and Normans.
In the 15th century, it was appropriated by the Republic of Venice, which set off a century-long period of affluence. Its position between the Ionian and Adriatic Seas helped to make it a prosperous town on a par with the other powerful maritime ports of Venice, Amalfi and Genoa.
The town’s port Porto Vecchio, so prosperous back then, is still a thriving port today. In the modern day, Monopoli has retained its historical roots as both a busy port and hub for agriculture.
A dramatic increase in tourism, as well as the hard work of the town’s local rural community, has seen both tourist accommodation and agriculture flourish. The Itria Valley’s unique Trulli (traditional stone huts with a corbelled roof) have been transformed from agricultural storehouses and lodgings into hotels and holiday rental accommodation.
In addition, the local community has produced a wide range of local products and services which have also helped to boost the economy. Monopoli food markets feature locally grown produce selling cultivated and wild fruit, vegetables and herbs. Popular products include chickpeas, broad beans, tomatoes and the barratiere (a variety of muskmelon). You may even be lucky enough to see farmers manning their stalls (or bancarelle), outside their homes and taking you into the kitchen to weigh your purchase!
Despite the preservation of its history, the town has made attempts to modernise in recent years, with new trendy bars, restaurants, cafes and boutiques. Monopoli is fast becoming a popular wedding destination, which is great for the tourist trade. German football star Manuel Neuer was married in the town’s cathedral. Duran Duran also performed at the castle a few years ago. It helps that the Apulia region is also becoming a magnet for A-List stars. Celebrities who have visited the region in recent years are Tom Hanks and Madonna. Helen Mirren recently also bought a masseria (fortified farmhouse) in the area.
It’s this renewed interest that will ensure Monopoli retains its unique charm long into the future.