The Subtle Beauty of Cisternino

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Cisternino in Puglia — distinctively beautiful

With flower boxes full of geraniums and bougainvillea colorfully contrasting the white buildings throughout its historic center, the subtle beauty of Cisternino made a lasting impression on me. A town with a population of under 12,000 residents, it is one of the distinctively lovely hilltop villages of the Valle d’Itria in Italy’s Puglia region.

"Red bougainvillea against the whitewashed buildings in Cisternino, Italy"

Red bougainvillea against the whitewashed buildings in Cisternino

After a walk around Locorotondo earlier in the morning, we drove six miles to Cisternino, passing fields, olive groves and clusters of “trulli” (the cone-shaped structures unique to this area of Puglia). Past the more modern developments in the outskirts of the town, we wound our way up the hill toward the Centro Storico (historic center), ready to explore Cisternino on foot.

"Flower boxes mark a colorful contrast to the white buildings of Cisternino"

Flower boxes and narrow alleys of Cisternino

At first, the old town appeared to be much like Locorontodo, with whitewashed buildings, narrow streets and the top of a church belltower visible from the entrance. But although similar to the typical architecture of the region, Cisternino has its own character with a more rustic, lived-in and slow-paced ambiance.

Although we were looking for the local tourist office, we never actually found it. That was fine with me since a town like this is perfect for meandering. Now I ask you to follow me as we wander through the canyons of close buildings in a shaded maze of stone lanes.

Let’s go this way

"Pointing out the way along the narrow streets of Cisternino"

Let’s go this way…

On this warm, sunny day just before noon, it was quiet at the entrance to Centro Storico as a few residents sat on benches or talked with neighbors in the piazza. The arched gateway on the left in the photo below is the Piazza Piccola (or Porta Piccenne), one of the entrances to old Cisternino.

"Piazza Mazzini at the entrance to Centrico Storico of Cisternino, Italy"

Piazza Mazzini

The historic center has five districts (rioni) identified by plaques painted on the street walls — l’isule (isolated from streets around it), le scheledde (curbs that were used to measure the pace of wagons), u pantano (swamp), u borgo (neighborhood) and borgo vecchio (oldest district).

"Street in the Scheledde district of Cisternino"

Narrow cobbled street in the Scheledde district

"A bike in building along the lane in the Scheledde district"

In the Scheledde district

The u Pandene area in the southeast corner of the old town is a maze of hidden alleys and passageways with three palaces, the Palazzo Carrieri, the Palazzo Pozio and the Palazzo de Amico.

"Arch over a lane in Cisternino"

Arch over a lane in U Pandene section of Cisternino

Laundry hanging from awnings and balconies create picturesque scenes of everyday life in Cisternino’s Centro Storico.

"Laundry hanging on a balcony in Centro Storico Cisternino"

Scenes of everyday life

Japanese architect Hidenobu Jinnai is quoted as saying that Cisternino is “a great masterpiece of architecture without architects”, referencing the various types of architecture that, although diverse, work well together.

"Arched passageway of Cisternino"

Passageway in Cisternino

"Steep steps leading to a home in the historic center of Cisternino"

Steep steps and unique architecture of a Cisternino home

The steep steps and facade of this Centro Storico home exemplify the unique architecture of Cisternino.

"Piazza Vittorio Emanuele in Cisternino, Italy"

Clock tower on the main square, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele

"Tile roof and stone building are examples of varied architecture of Cisternino, Italy"

Tile roof and stone building

This tile roof and stone building are further examples of varied architecture of Cisternino. The squared-off tops to the low buildings as seen below were in contrast to the pervasive peaked roofs of Locorotondo.

"Piazza Pellegrino Rossi at midday in Cisternino's CentroStorico"

Piazza Pellegrino Rossi

"Restaurants and shops along Via Duca d'aosta in Cisternino, Italy"

Restaurants and shops along Via Duca d’Aosta

"Figulo on Corso Umberto in Cisternino, Italy"

Corso Umberto

Of course, the churches

As in many of the towns and cities we visited in Italy, Cisternino has several beautiful churches, of which we saw two.

"Chiesa di Santa Lucia in Cisternino, Italy"

Chiesa di Santa Lucia

Just beyond the Porta Piccola (“small door”, Porta Piccènne in dialect), the ancient entrance to the old town of Cisternino, is the Church of Santa Lucia. The small church with a single room and bell tower was built in the 17th century. The round painting above the door depicts Santa Lucia. However, in the bright sun, we didn’t notice at the time that there was a shadow directly on her face.

"Chiesa Madre di San Nicola di Patara (Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas of Patara) in Cisternino, Italy"

Chiesa Madre di San Nicola di Patara (Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas of Patara)

Cisternino’s first church, built in 1000 AD has been replaced with the 13th century Mother Church, St. Nicholas of Patara.

Across from the cathedral is another of the town’s attractions, the Torre Grande (only a partial section is shown in the photo above), a Norman tower which stood as a symbol of power topped with a statue of the patron saint, Nicholas.

"Valley view from park on hilltop of Cisternino"

Valley view from park

Near the church is a community square with a view of lovely landscapes of the valley below with scattered clusters of trulli, fields and olive groves.

Next time

Cisternino is known for its tradition of “fornello pronto” where you can choose your meat or local specialty such as bombette (mince, ham and cheese) directly at the butcher shop’s hot stove where it is cooked to order and then served to you at a cafe table.

Cisternino also celebrates many festivals and feast days especially in the summer. In July, there is the Contrada Sisto, a meatball and roulade festival. In August, there is a procession honoring one of the town’s patron saints at Festa di San Quirico. Contrada Caranna, a food festival featuring Puglia’s famous ear-shaped pasta, orecchiette, is also in August. Then in September, the grape harvest festival takes places after harvest before the pressing begins.

On that note, I say “Salute!

If you go:

The nearest airports are in the cities of Bari and Brindisi which are about a one hour’s drive from Cisternino.

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63 thoughts on “The Subtle Beauty of Cisternino

  1. noel

    Yes can I order my fornello pronto like ‘pronto’, it’s almost my lunch time…I could hang out in that piazza under one of those umbrellas for the whole afternoon or evening!

  2. Leigh

    Looks like a fabulous small town though I was very surprised to see so few people. Maybe they just get going later in the day. This is exactly the sort of small town that I love to wander through – and sit at the cafe visible in one of your pictures.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I’m sure it get a bit busier in the evenings and certainly during festival times, but it was quite as you see it — quiet in the middle of the day.

  3. Karen Dawkins

    These photos so perfectly capture the Italy I imagine that they almost seem unreal. I know they are real… but it’s just so picture perfect! Were there any people around? Or did you patiently wait for the perfect shot each time? Thanks for sharing!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      It was very quiet. We never had to wait for photo ops since they were so few people about at that time. Can’t say if it’s always, but it was quite a nice experience.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I’d love to visit during festival time. I’m sure it’s quite different. We did see some locals who were very quietly talking to their neighbors or going into shops. They seem to have nice, easy pace there.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I just love that term “fornello pronto”! I really want to experience that sometime. Love the concept and how fun it would be to have a little leisurely lunch outside in the piazza or under a tree somewhere.

  4. Mary {The World Is A Book}

    I have been enjoying learning about these little Italian towns from you. They’re all so lovely and charming and such beautiful architecture. Love those churches and I would enjoy getting lost here. Once again, it looks like you had the place to yourselves or you two are early risers 🙂

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      We were there around noon, so I was expecting a little more activity. But it was also a pretty hot day and maybe most people were staying inside until evening. But from what I understand, it’s a slower paced, quiet town, in general.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Just stay from July through September! There would be a lot more festivals all over Puglia that you might like to enjoy during that time, too.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Thanks, Freya. And my small Italian town posts are not finished. More to come about them and other sites in Puglia. Hope you’ll stay tuned.

  5. Lisa Goodmurphy

    What a beautiful little town! I really need to explore more of Italy – we have been in Rome and stopped in the Amalfi Coast area on a cruise but there seem to be an endless number of lovely areas to discover in the country!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Visiting Puglia and Emilia-Romagna on this trip made me realize just how much there is to see in that country. Each region with its own character and the cities with all they have to offer — I don’t know how I’m going to get to it all. But I’m going to try. 🙂

  6. Jeff Titelius

    What a fabulous time you had in Italy and I love the way you bring your experience to life for all of your readers!! I really need to see this part of Italy and soon!! Wonderful post my friend!!

  7. Iain Mallory

    A beautiful place I’ve yet to visit, I think small villages throughout Europe, whether it’s Italy, Spain, Greece or France are great places to explore, and the people are usually very welcoming.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      The people were wonderful! We really did feel welcome in the small villages. People were generally helpful and friendly — even though we were terribly lacking in Italian language skills.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      The town wasn’t quite abandoned, but it was quiet and very few people on the streets of the old town. No patient waiting required to get the shots. 🙂

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Thank you! Of course, we had much help with our itinerary by the people at Puglia Promozione, So grateful for their help.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Thanks, Patti. I actually didn’t remember that photo being taken. I don’t think that it was intentional, but when I saw it later, I thought it was pretty good.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Just the sound of the words “fornello pronto” is pretty cool. Of course, I feel that way about a lot of things said in Italian — what a great language!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      There are definite differences from north to south and region to region, from what I’m learning so far. Weather, food, landscape, history. But some lovely common bonds, too — like the people. We’ll be posting more about both Emilia-Romagna and Puglia, so hopefully get more insight on those aspects.

  8. Tom Bartel

    I love the white homes with the balconies that sport the impromptu flower gardens. It reminds me of my favorite neighborhood in the world, Santa Cruz in Sevilla, Spain. The same white homes, the same hot climate. Lovely.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Ha! I keep finding more and more “my kind of town” places. There’s something about all of them in Italy, that’s for sure.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I actually wish we could have taken a little more time and slowed down our pace a bit to match the slower pace of the town itself. We were trying to see as much as possible in a short time. But not complaining… 🙂

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I can definitely see staying at some quiet albego in town and even using the town as a base to see other places in the area. Or…. just getting some R&R.

  9. Lori

    I loved this post. It’s like you are allowing us, your readers, to take the same trip. I liked the small streets, the Piazza Mazzini and, of course, the red bougainvillea;)

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