In Alberobello we met the most famous buildings of Itria – the trulli. They spread throughout the valley, but in its largest city, they have been displaced by the beautiful baroque. Martina Franca – one of the charms of Puglia!
Where is located and how to get there
Martina Franca is the trading center on the Itria Valley. It is located 15 km southeast of the most tourist place in the region – Alberobello. Taranto is just 32 km away and Bari is 70 km away. Locorotondo and Ostuni are very close by.
The most convenient way to get there is by car. The more attractive part is the old part located on a high hill, which can be reached by narrow streets full of local cars. Parking there is almost impossible. I recommend the use of the wide parking lot at its foot – Parcheggio Viale Europa. The price per hour is 0.80 euro, and for a full day is 5 euro. It takes about 2 hours to tour the town.
Through the Porta di Santo Stefano
Steep and not so friendly streets take us to the main entrance to the historic center of Martina Franca – Porta di Santo Stefano. In the Middle Ages, the old town was surrounded by a defensive fortress with four gates and over 20 observation towers! Today, the best preserved and impressive of these fortifications is the Porta di Santo Stefano, through which pass all tourists who decided to see the charm of the puglian town.
In front of the gate there is a small square, which was filled mostly by local retirees, sitting on benches lit by the February sun. If the size of the old part of Martina Franca isn’t large and can be seen quickly, then the city itself is not small at all! Its permanent population is about 50,000 inhabitants.
Next stop – Piazza Roma
Crossing the gates takes us to the small square Piazza Roma. Here is the most famous landmark of Martina Franca – Palazzo Ducale! The palace was built in 1668 by the most important leaders of the city – the Caracciolo family. The building has over 300 rooms, chapels, stables, a courtroom, a theater and a guest house, and the original project was even more spectacular! Today it houses the library and town hall, and part of the palace is open to the public, the most impressive inside are the richly painted murals and lavish decorations.
My attention is drawn to the opposite baroque facade, which is further decorated with several palm trees and flowers. Adding the small typical cafe on the ground floor, we get a perfect photo from Martina Franca!
The baroque of Martina Franca
A narrow street with many baroque balconies overhanging the heads of pedestrians… this is the street via Vittorio Emanuele, which will take us to the center of the old town. It is no coincidence that they call Martina Franca “The Baroque jewel of Southern Italy”! The architecture is so interesting and unique that it is called “Barocco Martinese” – baroque style, unique for the city!
Central square Piazza Plebiscito
Our next stop is the beautiful main square Piazza Plebiscito! The typical baroque buildings contribute to its unique atmosphere. This is the heart of Martina Franca. Around 1000, settlers from the coastal city of Taranto founded a settlement on a high hill, which they named on St. Martino (San Martino). In 1310 the settlement received tax status from the prince of the province of Taranto – Filippo I D’Angiò. He gave the city various privileges and added to its name “Franca”, derived from “franchigia”, which means “liberated” and in fact symbolizes the acquired eternal state property. This is how the name Franca Martina was created, which has changed over the centuries due to the loss of these privileges, and for a long time the city was called only Martina. It was not until 1861 that it was renamed the current Martina Franca!
Basilica of San Martino
Given the roots of the place, it is quite logical that the main temple of the city bears the name of its patron – San Martino. Built in the 18th century, the basilica is slightly creamy in color, which is typical of the local stones with which it was built. Its facade is a complex combination of many carvings and images, with the figure of San Martino occupying a central place, just above the front door. It is also worth taking a look inside, where works of art by local artists are collected.
The square with beautiful arches – Piazza Maria Immacolata
As you may have guessed, Martina Franca is a mixture of narrow shady streets and spacious sunny squares. Another similar square awaits us – Piazza Maria Immacolata. This is probably the most pleasant and captivating place in the whole town! The square has a unique construction, surrounded by a semicircle with beautiful arches and buildings above them. And right there, between columns, arches and green shutters on the windows, another view of the Basilica of San Martino creeps in…
Right at the end is the little Cafe Tripoli, where we decided to have a cappuccino with a freshly baked croissant. The shop window was full of freshly baked delicacies, and the locals came one by one to get something to eat on foot…
The Lama district and the white streets of Martina Franca
And while we were enjoying the baroque splendour, it was time to understand why Martina Franca is among the so-called citta ‘bianche or in translation – white cities! The best option to consider this part is just to get lost… which is certainly not difficult in the narrow shady streets. Because of its location, these were the coldest and wettest homes, making the Lama neighborhood the poorest part of town! Today it is an architectural gemstone, which is an integral part of Martina Franca’s visit! And the locals still live in the whitewashed buildings, which is hinted at by the typical hanging laundry for the whole of Puglia! The houses are of different sizes and shapes, but so overlap that they form a charming maze of white walls!
For a final
Despite the small city center, the village is amazing! Martina Franca is an unique combination of baroque buildings and beautiful narrow streets running along whitewashed facades. A combination you must see when visiting Puglia…