The Archaeological Park of Egnazia

The Archaeological Park of Egnazia

Friday 13 May 2022

"For those who sail from Brindisi along the Adriatic coast, the city of Egnatia is the normal stopover to reach Bari, both by sea and by land" : so wrote Strabo at the end of the 1st century BC.

Today Egnatia is a splendid place for the body, mind and spirit. Visiting it is an unforgettable experience: it will be for the suggestion of history, for the beauty of the ruins and the possibility to walk there as if in a living city. What is certain is that the sun, the light, the solitude and silence of the places, the panorama and the splendid sea of Egnazia and Puglia, make this place unique and unmissable.

Still today on the road that runs along the Adriatic, on the border between the ancient Peucezia and Messapia, the current provinces of Bari and Brindisi, on a clearing open to the sea, preceded by a hill surrounded by waters, lie the remains of the ancient and rich city of Egnatia.

The most ancient evidences date back to the end of the Bronze Age, about 1300-1200 years before Christ, and consist of groups of huts scattered along the coast and inland. Men were attracted to this area by the particular shape of the coast that draws a rounded peninsula flanked by two natural inlets that must have looked like a splendid landing place. And it is on the relationship between man and the sea that the development of the city is grafted, in principle limited to that peninsula overlooking the sea. In the fifth century BC, the city, now extended towards the hinterland, was surrounded by the first and most important circle of walls which, in a semicircular shape, measured about 2000 meters, and embraced an area of 40 hectares.

Certainly not the whole area was built up: cultivated fields, pastures and spaces were opened to welcome the peasants in case of danger. Already in this phase the center was clearly divided between the "hill by the sea" and the hinterland: in fact, Egnazia was crossed by a coastal road which in the 2nd century AD. it became a stretch of the Imperial Trajan road, which connected Rome to Brindisi and, therefore, to the East. Even today the artery, in its urban stretch, is perfectly preserved and the polygonal stone blocks of the paving are visible.

The acropolis with a large temple from the 4th century BC stretched out on the hill overlooking the sea. Its height is not due to natural factors, but to the accumulation of material for the more than millennial urban life that took place there. The hill also had its defense wall towards the ground. On the flanks the hill is marked by two deep inlets used as ports: first without human intervention, then, in the imperial age, two arms were built that closed the inlet to the north whose remains are visible on the bottom of the splendid sea facing the city . At the foot of the hill lies the very interesting public area: we recognize the hole with a trapezoidal plan, the market area in an original elliptical shape, and the area of the pagan basilica with an internal quadriporticus.

This monument was flanked by a Dionysian place of worship, probably imported by Roman soldiers stationed in the East. Christianity wanted to distinguish itself from the old rites and built its temples, two large basilicas and a baptistery, beyond the Via Traiana. It is certainly not the reason for the decline and death of Egnatia: certainly the dominion of Rome made it a provincial city, less autonomous and lively, but it was equipped with an excellent port, new walls and still in the early Middle Ages the defenses were strengthened with a new circle around the hill and the construction of a real castle. Probably a war event during the twenty-year Greco-Gothic war (5th century AD) hit the city. In any case, it is at that time that the city perished never to recover. Life today is represented by visitors, archaeologists and the modern and rich archaeological museum. Perhaps there is no other place where the synthesis between culture and relaxation, between pleasure of the body and pleasure of the mind, is so perfect.

Text: Antonio Diviccaro

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