The Alta Murgia National Park is a nature reserve in Apulia. It is characterized by fascinating landscapes, where among rocky ridges, sinkholes, karstic caves and oak woods, you can see stone farmhouses, with fences and stables for flocks of sheeps, cultivated fields, little churches and endless networks of dry-stone walls.
The Murgia is a karstic plateau in Italy that extends across the border between Apulia and Basilicata, and the Alta Murgia National Park is located in the south-west of Apulia region.
It is a great place for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts, but also for those who are interested in history. Indeed, here people can re-live a medieval atmosphere, thanks to the presence of castles dating back to the period of Norman-Swabian domination, such as the majestic Castel del Monte, and they can travel with their imagination even further back in time, to discover the life of primitive men and dinosaurs. The plateau has, in fact, numerous traces of the presence of man since prehistory, such as cave paintings, dolmens, skeletons, but also the footprints of great reptiles near Altamura.
Flora and fauna
The Murgia landscape is deeply rooted in history: emperors, farmers, shepherds and lumberjacks have been living here for centuries and they have managed to cultivate and settle in one of the most remarkable Mediterranean areas. However, the landscape has its peculiarities for each season. For instance, in spring you can easily see wild tulips flourishing and long green fields of wheat, but also orchids, whereas in autumn or in winter you will certainly admire cyclamens and hawthorns. If you get lost here, try to be as relaxed as possible: thanks to the smell of the thyme and the mint, you will feel like you are having the best time of your life! Here you will definitely enjoy the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets you could ever ask for.
The Alta Murgia National Park is famous in Italy for its great variety of animal and plant species. Indeed, many trees are visible in the Murgia area, especially the ones belonging to the oak family: holm oaks, Turkey oaks and Quercus frainetto, while the most common trees in the pinewoods are the Aleppo Pine and the cypress. Hundreds of animal species live here; this is why the fauna of the National Park is considered one of the most peculiar and interesting of Apulia: birds, amphibians and mammals live together in a perfect symbiosis:
- Birds: brachydactyla (from the Latin name Calandrella brachydactyla), larks, red kites and many species of hawks, among which there is the typical Falco Grillaio (its Latin name is Falco Naumanni, one of the most important birds in the area). Other birds are the barn owl and the owl.
- Amphibians and reptiles: tritons, geckos, vipers, green lizards and tortoises.
- Mammals: foxes, weasels, badgers, wild boars and sometimes wolves too.
- 1 Castel del Monte, Strada Statale 170, 76123, Andria-BT, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 09:00-17:00. It is situated on the peak of an isolated hill in the territory of Andria. It is considered the most fascinating castle built by Frederick II and the most mysterious at the same time. A masterpiece of medieval architecture, built in the 13th century, it is characterized by an unusual octagon shape with octagonal towers at each corner. This sets it apart from all other castles, making it unique in the world. For its outstanding universal value, UNESCO included Castel del Monte in its World Heritage list in 1996. A little curiosity that tourists should know is that the image of the castle appears on the Italian 1 cent coin. Full price ticket €7, €2 for 18-25 EU citizen.
- 2 Cava Pontrelli (Enchanted Valley, Dinosaur Valley), Strada Provinciale 235, 70022 Altamura, ✉ email@example.com. Also known as Valle Incantata, (the Enchanted Valley) the Dinosaur Valley lies between the two cities of Altamura and Santeramo in Colle, in which some fossilized footprints of dinosaurs have been found. There are more or less a hundred, different-sized and belonging to at least five different species of herbivore and carnivore dinosaurs. These footprints are extremely important to study dinosaurs lives (solitary or in group). There is no doubt that there are footprints of dinosaurs in every corner of the world, but the archeological site between Altamura and Santeramo in Colle is definitely significant for the quality of conservation biodiversity. Please note that it is not always possible to visit the Valley, indeed, the municipality of Altamura periodically organizes guided tours.
- 3 Bauxite Quarry, Strada Provinciale 138, 76014 Spinazzola. The Bauxite Quarry near Spinazzola is a place that you cannot miss. It was a functioning quarry in which between the 1950s and 70s this mineral was extracted and transformed into aluminum. Subsequently abandoned, the quarry today represent a place of important environmental interest. Like a painting, where the red earth mixes with the green of the vegetation, with the blue of the sky and the small pond in the heart of the quarry. It is a magical place to visit, off the beaten track. In 2019, due to its beauty it even attracted a National Geographic troupe who, surprised by this landscape, claimed it was a charming place.
- 4 Rocca del Garagnone (Invisible Castle). They are the ruins of a medieval castle near the town of Poggiorsini. Located on the top of a hill, it was built in the Norman-Swabian era by Frederick II but due to the earthquake in 1731, the fortress collapsed. Today, the ruins of the Rocca continues to dominate the hill after centuries, camouflaging itself among the rocks of its territory, and for this reason it is called "Invisible Castle". The Rocca del Garagnone is an ideal place for hiking, trekking and cycling, for those who love nature and history at the same time. While hiking in the mystical silences of Alta Murgia you can still hear the echo of kings and knights.
The Alta Murgia National Park is a corner of paradise for trekking and cycling enthusiasts.
- 4cycling'n Trek, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. It offers guided tours across the territory of the Murgia, allowing people to experience and to discover places, such as the Bauxite Quarry and the Rocca del Garagnone. However, the bike is not the only means by which you can cross and enjoy these breathtaking views.
- TicketPuglia, Via Sac. Cerrotti, 16 - 70032 - Bitonto (BA) - Italy, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. There is the possibility to book a horseback riding tour, and if you are a horse riding lover, you absolutely must do it to make this experience in the Alta Murgia National Park even more unforgettable.
- Boscosauro, Strada Statale 96, Contrada Censo, 70022 Altamura (BA), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are on holiday with your family and you have young children, you must visit the Boscosauro, near Altamura. Your family will surely have fun thanks to the workshops, picnic and above all to the presence of life-sized dinosaurs, capable of moving and roaring just like the real ones thanks to animatronics technology.
Altamura is one of the biggest cities in the area. It is the main city in the Alta Murgia National Park which covers the two southern regions of Apulia and Basilicata, and it is known especially for its famous bread that acquired the DOP labelling (in Italian Denominazione di Origine Protetta, a Quality assurance label), recognized all over the world. Moreover, the city hosts one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in the region, that is the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral, built by order of the Emperor Frederick II during the XIII century. That is why every year Altamura honors the emperor with the Federicus festival, hosted every May: it is a medieval reenactment with people dressed up in the traditional costumes of that period, celebrating banquets and ceremonies that really transform the historical center into a wonderful medieval city. Geographically, Altamura has a strategic position, because it is very close to two other important Southern Italian towns: Gravina in Puglia and Matera.
14 kilometers from Altamura, Gravina in Puglia, most of the time simply called Gravina, is an Apulian town that is also part of the Murgia landscape and another important center in the Alta Murgia National Park; its name comes from the Italian name gravina, which basically means canyon. You should visit this town because it a large number of movies were made here. Many Italian directors and actors have been here to shoot their movies that have become milestones of the Italian culture: think about Sophia Loren in the movie C’era una volta (More than a miracle, in English) or Gian Maria Volonté and the movie Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ stopped at Eboli), both directed by Francesco Rosi. Rai1 too, the national Italian TV channel, shot different TV series here like Pane e Libertà (2009) with the famous Italian actor Pierfrancesco Favino or Il capitano Maria (2017) with the famous Spanish-Italian actress Vanessa Incontrada. Last but not the least, in 2019 the movie from the 007 saga No time to die, with Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux, was shot here, with a spectacular jump from the famous Ponte Acquedotto Madonna della Stella.
The Bridge Acquedotto Madonna della Stella, also known as Ponte della Gravina (184, Federico Mennini Street, Gravina in Puglia), is a famous bridge included in the so called Luoghi del cuore (Places of the heart) listed by the Italian cultural association FAI Fondo Ambiente Italiano for its historical and cultural background. Few things are known about it, but it is for sure that it already existed in the XVII century and collapsed some years later due to an earthquake, then rebuilt by order of the Roman family Orsini who lived there during the XVIII century (Gravina was at that time part of their feudal land). They wanted to rebuild it as aqueduct able to conduct the waters from the water sources Sant’Angelo and San Giacomo under the city walls.
Matera, (La città dei Sassi, from the ancient town) in the bordering region of Basilicata, is another must if you visit Altamura, only 17 kilometers away from the Apulian town. Like Gravina in Puglia, Matera is known throughout the world for the numerous movies shot here dating back to the 60’s with the famous Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel according to St. Matthew) by the writer and director Pier Paolo Pasolini. Matera was at the center of other important movie productions, like The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson (2004), Ben Hur (2016) by Timur Bekmambetov, Wonder Woman (2017) by Patty Jenkins and the last 007 movie No Time to die (2019) by Cary Fukunaga.
Despite these important movie productions, Matera became famous across the world thanks to UNESCO, which pronounced the town a world heritage site, for its history, culture and local traditions, in 1993. From that moment, the ancient town, the Sassi, was restored and tourists started going to Matera to explore the ancient glory of this little town. If you go to Matera, you cannot miss the magnificent Apulian-Romanesque cathedral of Madonna della Bruna e di Sant’Eustachio, the two Patron Saints of the town, in the old area of Sassi. The Sassi are actually made up of two ancient districts, the Sasso Caveoso, which is the district overlooking the caves, and the Sasso Barisano, the one geographically overlooking the city of Bari. Both of them are a real testimony of how our ancestors lived; for this reason, do not miss the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, where it is shown everything about the old lifestyle in the Sassi districts, from the beds where they used to sleep to the tools used in the fields.
Matera is also known for the great quantity of rupestrian churches and crypts (they are at least 150), where ancient frescoes of the lives of the Saints are the real protagonists. Not to be missed are some of the most important rupestrian churches like the wonderful Santa Lucia alle Malve, Santa Maria de Idris and Convicinio di Sant’Antonio, in the Sasso Caveoso district. If you want to visit another important rupestrian church, then some kilometers away from the town you can visit the restored Crypt of the Original Sin, where there are frescos in the Lombard style.