The History

The legend of Antello and Althea The city’s origins are lost in legend. An ancient story would set them back to Antello, a Trojan hero who escaped with Aeneas after the destruction of the city. While Aeneas had continued his travels to Lazio, Antello would have stopped here, giving rise to the city of Altilia (Alter Ilium – another Troy). Another legend says instead that the city was founded by Althea, already Queen of the Myrmidons and arrived here after fleeing from his subjects, because of the murder of his son Melegrano. The founders and the walls Actually, the area on which stands the current Altamura was inhabited since ancient times, as demonstrated by the discovery of the Man of Altamura and by more later evidence like the “The Cross” settlement and the necropolis dating to the Bronze Age. The Peucetii, first civilization to settle on this land, built a great civil and military work that later gave its name to the new country: a high wall around the village (high – walls = alta – mura), made of boulders, the Megalithic Walls, to defend it against enemies coming from the sea (Taranto) and from the mountains (Lucania), at the end of the fifth century BC. In Roman times, the city experienced a substantial decline, probably due to the destruction by a cataclysm or to Saracen raids. Federicus me reparavit It was only in the Middle Ages that the city regained some importance, thanks to the Emperor Frederick II of Swabia, who, come to Altamura in the twelfth century, found a deserted and uninhabited place. The city was reborn through his dedication (as confirmed by the inscription under the red and white coat of arms of the city: Federicus me reparavit), with military and economic targets, well defended by a castle and a new town wall. The emperor did this, according to an ancient story, perhaps in gratitude for the help his sick soldiers had received while he went on the crusade to the Holy Land or perhaps, according to others, because of the healthy position. The free city revives To populate it he called people from neighboring countries too, including Greeks and Jews of the areas of his kingdom, granting exemptions and special privileges, or the right to cultivate the land and rebuild their homes without paying taxes. When the city revived, the villages scattered in the countryside, where people had taken refuge in the dark ages of the history of Altamura, were slowly emptied. So the city grew and grew rich in a short time, and in the ’400 it already counted a few thousands of inhabitants. Frederick II ordered the construction of the great Cathedral in 1232, destined to become one of the most revered shrines in Apulia. In 1248, under pressure from Frederick, Pope Innocent IV declared Altamura outside the jurisdiction of the bishop of Bari, making the Cathedral a de facto “palatine church”, equivalent to a palace chapel. The Lioness of Apulia The territory of Altamura was a fief of various noble families, in particular of the Orisini del Balzo and the Farneses (1538-1734), the latter ordering the construction of numerous palaces and churches. In 1648 the insurrection of Masaniello in Naples involved many other cities of the kingdom in revolt against the feudal system, including Altamura, which opposed with decision the reconquest attempts by Gian Girolamo II Acquaviva d’Aragona, powerful Count of Conversano. On that occasion, Altamura joined the Royal Neapolitan Republic and self-governed itself.In 1748, Charles VII of Naples founded there a university, one of the first of its kind in all of southern Italy. In 1799 the city rebelled against the Bourbon government: the revolt, known as the Revolution of Altamura, was ultimately suppressed two days later and the city sacked by Fabrizio Ruffo. In the Napoleonic age instead the university was finally closed (1811). The revolutionary spirit was also felt in the Risorgimento, making Altamura the seat of the Bari Insurrection Committee and, after the unification of 1860, it was the site of the first provisional capital of Apulia; it has since then been called the “Lioness of Apulia” for the bravery shown during the rebellion against the Bourbons.