The city of Conversano was founded by the Peuceti, an ancient tribe that lived in the central territory of Puglia, in the 7th century BC. At that time, it was known as Norba, which means 'fortified city', and it thrived on commerce thanks to its strategic position. Parts of the ancient megalithic walls can still be seen in various places: inside the castle, in Piazza XX Settembre and in Via Signorella.
After a long period of Roman domination, Conversano was occupied by the Byzantines and then by the Longobards. The latter built extensive fortifications in the 7th century.
In 1054, the Norman lord Geoffrey, a nephew of Robert Guiscard, assumed the title of "Count of Conversano" and turned Conversano into the capital of a large county that extended to Lecce and Nardò.
In 1508, Conversano was bought by the Acquaviva d'Aragona family, who owned it until 1806.
What to see
The Castle of Conversano, located at the highest point of the city, was built in the Norman era. Of the original building, the square tower and a fresco located in the vaulted entrance, depicting the saints Cosma and Damiano, can still be seen today.
A round tower was added in the 14th century and, in 1460, a polygonal bastion was built next to it. The main entrance, the walls and the gallery date back to the 18th century.
Many of the rooms have been richly decorated by artists such as Paolo Domenico Finoglio.
Inside the Castle of Conversano is the Pinacoteca Paolo Domenico Finoglio and, on the second floor, the Pinacoteca Netti can be found; it is located right inside the premises of the Ancient Acquaviva gallery.
The construction of the Cathedral of Conversano began in the 11th century. In the 14th century, the building was finally completed with the addition of the rose window and the richly carved portal, together with various finishing touches to the façade.
The interior is T-shaped, with two lateral apses and galleries over the side aisles known as matronea.
In the church stands the icon of Madonna della Fonte, the protector of the city.
Church and Monastery of San Benedetto
The Monastery of San Benedetto and its church were originally built in the 11th century by Benedictine monks, who, after an unsuccessful struggle for political power, were eventually forced to leave Conversano. It was occupied again in 1266 by Cistercian nuns.
The convent has two cloisters: an earlier Romanesque one and a later one from the 18th century. The former is decorated with beautiful carved capitals depicting animals, plants and fruits.
The church was built in 1085 and, after various transformations, is now predominantly Baroque in style. The interior has a central nave and two lateral ones. Inside, there are Baroque decorations and two canvases by Paolo Finoglio.
The bell tower, built in 1655, is higher than that of the cathedral to symbolise the superior status of the Benedictine Sisters over the local bishop.
Church of Santi Medici Cosma and Damiano
This church, built in 1639 by Giangirolamo II of Acquaviva, is an important example of Neapolitan Baroque architecture in Puglia.
Interesting decorations and frescoes can be seen inside, on both the side walls and the ceilings, made by painters such as Paolo Domenico Finoglio, Cesare Fracanzano and Carlo Rosa.
Conversano tourist information
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Corso San Domenico Morea
Towns in Puglia