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National Archaeological Museum of Gioia del Colle
Photo: Sailko

National Archaeological Museum of Gioia del Colle

National Archaeological Museum of Gioia del colle (‘Museo Nazionale Archeologico Gioia del Colle’) is a museum dedicated to displaying the remains of the ancient centre of Puglia. It is the main tourist attraction in the town of Gioia del Colle, a town in Bari 360 metres above sea level where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet.

The park comprises one of the most indigenous locations of pre-Roman Peucezia (central Puglia) in the region. The excavations encompass a broad period from the Iron Age up to pre-Roman times. However, most exhibits range from the 6th to 3rd centuries BC, with a particular focus on the Hellenistic period.

The museum itself is located in the old Nordan-Swedish Castle of Gioia del Colle (‘Joy of the Colle’), a 9th-century Byzantine-era rectangular limestone fortification. The ground and first floors host the museum’s exhibition halls plus a ticket office, cafe and bookshop. The higher levels contain the rooms used to help make the museum run smoothly, such as offices and laboratories used for analysing samples. The castle’s history is intertwined with the exhibitions, which means visitors can also step into the kitchen, prison and castle towers.

Most of the exhibits were uncovered during archaeological excavations between 1957 and 1961. Although, the first excavation was conducted in 1929 by archaeologist Michele Gervasio. Digs resumed in the early 1970s, focusing on the inhabited parts of the grounds, as well as the site of the ancient acropolis.

The remains of the ancient Peuceta city itself lie only a few kilometres from the castle’s location and visitors are able to recreate the area through an informative walk. This can be taken in one or two itineraries: one archaeological, where you can view the topographical configuration and structure of the old city; or naturalistic, which focuses more on physical landmarks and the environmental surroundings as a whole.

A walk around the 50-hectare grounds will reveal the ancient wall that sealed off the city from its surroundings, old 3rd-century tombs and reconstructions of how the Peucezians lived.

Inside the museum is an assortment of ancient memorabilia including bronze battle gear, grave kits and vases. If you’re observant enough you may notice two small lumps on the wall that resemble breasts. Legend has it that Italian noblewoman and last wife of the emperor Frederick II, Bianca Lancia d'Agliano, had them chopped off in revenge for her betrayal with another man. We may perhaps never know how true that is, although it is probable that she died in the castle.

Even though the museum is a permanent fixture, excavations continue on the grounds to this day. The University of Bari has held a digging site on the premises since 1999 and the museum still receives cosmetic enhancements to improve its attraction as a magnet for tourists or Italians curious about the area’s history.