The Trani Cathedral

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The Queen among Puglia’s Chatedrals.

The Trani Cathedral, built in honour of Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim, represents one of the most famous monuments of Romanesque art. The church’s fame is due to its elegance as well as to the beautiful natural scenery of its location: a wonderful square completely made of Trani stone, a few metres from both the sea and the Venetian-style harbour where it stands -stately and solemn- as a witness of the town’s magnificence and power in the Middle Ages. The splendid architecture exalts the light as well as the brightness of the site due to the use of the Trani calcareous tuff, a rose- white stone, that abounds in the local quarries.

The beginning of its building dates back to 1099, after the proclamation of the new Patron Saint of Trani Nicholas the Pilgrim, a young Greek man arrived very ill in Apulia who then died of exhaustion on the stairs of an old town church.

Many historians however, in addition to the religious and noble aim to receive Saint Nicholas’ relics, tend to suggest a more stimulating historical theory: that through the monumental building, Trani’s already prestigious position and political power would be enhanced in order to better face the enemy town of Bari, keeper of the relics of Saint Nicholas from Mira.

Magnificent as it is slender, the cathedral shows a simple and solemn façade, spaced by blind arches that enclose the precious bronze portal, a masterpiece executed by Barisanus from Trani, a sculptor to whom many other important works have been attributed like the bronze door of the Cathedral of Ravello and the northern portal of the Cathedral of Monreale.

cattedrale di trani dettaglio rosone

The Trani monument is decorated with bronze tiles depicting religious events through a Byzantine style rich with Saracen influence, now restored and guarded inside the cathedral.

A disturbing series of both animal and imaginary figures -typical of gothic-medieval bestiaries- fill rosettes, large windows and outer shelves, while the interior showcases precious polychromatic mosaics on white background. The hypogeum, carved out of very rich marbles, is unforgettable.

After its completion the cathedral was enriched with a bell tower measuring almost 60 metres in height that remains still today a rare urban, rural and marine landmark. A short distance from the cathedral, located in a strategic position and meant as a sign of defiance of temporal power towards religious power, stands the imposing Swabian Castle ordered by the Norman Emperor Frederick the Second in 1223 which represents one of his fortified works built to protect his territory.

In this same square the institutions meet and challenge each other in a very respectful manner: the military Castle, the Cathedral, the Law Court, the Diocesan museum all express power in its various forms. State, religion, justice and culture all come together in a delicate balance that is able to attract one’s glance by surprising even children and the most distracted of passers-by.

Author: Betty Mezzina