Gravina in Puglia
The city of Gravina in Puglia lies towards the western edge of the Province of Bari within the Region of Puglia. The historical center of the town lines the eastern edge of a substantial ravine with steep limestone walls, and the Alta Murgia, a substantial limestone plateau, is visible to the north of town. To the west of the town rises the hill of Botromagno and to the south of the town is a substantial woodland, the Bosco Communale. The area has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period, thanks in part to the abundance of water afforded by the Gravina River. During the Iron Age, the hill of Botromagno was the center of a Peucetian proto-urban center that may have been called Silbion (or Silvium in Latin), which dominated the region as a first-order center providing an administrative and market center for the surrounding territory. Silvium was greatly reduced at the end of the Iron Age, as a result of events during the Samnite Wars and the Second Punic War, although the Roman Via Appia ran through the town. During the Roman period, settlement in the region was more dispersed, with little evidence for a major town. The period of unrest in Late Antiquity, saw many people move into caves within the ravine for protection, and it is on this population that the medieval city is founded. Due in part to its strategic position on the Via Appia, the town, which was then known as Garagnone or Garaynone, became an important Norman seat in medieval Apulia, with the foundation of a cathedral and a castle. From 1267 to 1380, the town and its territory was the feudal possession of the Angioni family, after which it became a possession of the powerful Orsini family of Rome until 1816. The local members of the Orsini family include Pope Benedict XIII, born in Gravina in 1649. It is sometime during this period that the town came to be called Gravina, which local lore claims is derived from the Latin motto, “Grana dat et vina” (It gives grain and wine).
Roughly 45,000 people reside in Gravina today and many of them are employed in agricultural and industrial sectors. In particular, the agricultural sector produces grains used for bread and pasta, wines, in particular reds such as Primitivo, fruits, and olive oil. While parts of the town were badly damaged by allied bombing in the Second World War and by a major earthquake in 1980, the historical center has seen a renaissance in recent years with many of the older palazzi refurbished. Among other things, the town contains an exceptional cathedral, originally built by the Normans in the 12th century, but rebuilt after an earthquake in the 15th century, a Norman castle built during the reign of Frederick II, the baroque church of Madonna delle Grazie, the Church of San Francesco, the Church of San Sebastiano, and San Michele of the Grottoes—an early cave church carved out of the limestone cliffs next to the ravine.