Having been inhabited from the 1stmillennium BC, Puglia has a rich and intersting history which is reflected in it’s architecture, foods, wines and dialects. In the 8thcentury BC the Greeks founded a string of settlements along the Ionian coast. Their major city was Taras (Taranto) which was settled by Spartan exiles who dominated until they were defeated by the Romans in 272 BC. Having captured the ports of Taranto and Brindisi the Romans established dominion over the region. In 190 BC, the Romans completed Via Appia, the road from Rome to the south and during the Imperial age Puglia was a flourishing region for the production of grain and oil.
After the fall of Rome, Puglia was ruled successively by the Goths, the Lombards and, from the 6th century onwards, the Byzantines. From 800 on, Saracen domination in the area was intermittent, with Puglia mostly under Byzantine control until the 11th century, when the Normans conquered it with relative ease.
From the late 12th to early 13th centuries, Puglia was a favorite residence of the Hohenstaufen emperors, notably Frederick II. After the fall of the latter's heir, Manfred, under the Angevine and Aragonese/Spanish dominations Puglia became largely dominated by a small number of powerful landowners (Baroni). In 1734 there was the battle of Bitonto, a Spanish victory over Austrian forces. The coast was occupied at times by the Turks and by the Venetians. The French also controlled the region in 1806-1815, resulting in the abolition of feudalism and the reformation of the justice system. In 1861 the region joined Italy. After Mussolini’s seizure of power in 1922 following WWI, the south became the frontline in his ‘Battle for Wheat’. This initiative was aimed at making Italy self-sufficient when it came to food, following the sanctions imposed on the country after its conquest of Ethiopia. Puglia to this day is covered in wheat fields, olive groves and fruit arbours.
Apart from invaders and pirates, malaria was for a very long time the greatest problem of the south, and was only eradicated after World War II. The many rulers of Puglia have left their mark in the diverse architecture which can still be seen across the region - the Normans left their fine Romanesque churches, the Swabians their fortifications, and the Spanish bold baroque buildings. However, the exact origins of the unique, 16th-century, conical-roofed stone houses called trulli are unknown. Found only in Puglia, and with a particular density in the picturesque town of Alberobello, rumours persist about shepherd huts and tax evasion!