Brindisi – Ancient Port of the Adriatic

Brindisi – Ancient Port of the Adriatic

Night time scenery of the Brindisi old town, photographed from the opposite shore. Behind the seafront buildings the Roman column and large staircase, in front is a large sailing ship moored at the town quay.

From Otranto, we headed north along the Apulian coast towards Brindisi. It was a pleasant, sunny day, with just a hint of cool autumn. The passage of 40 nautical miles was uneventful. The wind was good all day, but it was already dark by the time we reached the shelter of the breakwater of Brindisi harbour.

An anchorage was marked on the charts by the Castello Alfonsino, but it turned out to be too deep and unprotected upon closer inspection. We rounded the fortress and dropped anchor in front of the Marina of Brindisi, which we knew was forbidden, but nobody chased us away. By dawn, we were already gone. We moved to the inner harbour that has a free town quay on both sides of the bay. The northern one seemed more peaceful and we moored alongside it. For the first time in six months, Aina was tied up to the shore – we had only anchored since leaving our previous winter base. We hadn’t even visited a fuel dock. The winds had, for once, been so favourable we’d managed with a very moderate amount of diesel. We had even hauled all of our water with jerrycans and hadn’t found it much of a chore.

Sailboat Aina moored alongside a stone paved town quay with a couple of other boats

Brindisi is an ancient town, grown along the shores of two deep bays carved by river estuaries. It’s one of few sheltered natural harbours along Italy’s Adriatic coast and has always served as a starting point for passages to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean.

An ancient little statue of a female figure with wings shaped like scallop shells
The Archaeological Museum has a splendid collection of antiquities, including Hellenistic bronze statues and underwater treasures. Click the thumbnails below to see bigger pictures.

In the Roman era, Brundisium, as it was called, was one of the most important cities in the empire. There were one hundred thousand inhabitants. The Roman highway, Via Appia, terminated here, marked by two great 2nd-century columns. They were connected by a beam, with a fire burning on top of it, guiding mariners. Only one column remains, one was moved to the city of Lecce.

Massive stone staircase with old houses on both sides and a tall Roman column on the top platform
The Roman column on top of the stairs of Scalinata Virgilio. The stairs were named after the poet Virgil who died in Brindisi on the way home from his tour of Greece in 19 BCC.

The Goths destroyed the city in the 7th century and it fell into a long decay. Eventually, the port was needed again. The Byzantine empire brought Brindisi back from oblivion (in the 11th century) but soon lost it to the Normans and Swabians (12th-13th centuries), who sailed off on crusades to the Holy Land. After that, Aragonian and Spanish ruled in the area.

Sunrise view of the town from across the bay, with amazing purple clouds covering the whole sky. In the background is the large shape of the castle with a naval ship anchored in front of it.
Castello Svevo, a handsome castle from the 13th century is now a naval base. The photo is from the bottom of the town bay at the break of dawn.

When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Brindisi became an important stopover along the Far East shipping route. The name of the city quay derives from this period: Approdo delle Indie – Port of India. That’s where Aina is currently hibernating.

The large rudder shaped monument seen from the arch opening of a surrounding stone wall
The Sailors’ monument, Monumento al Marinaio d’Italia, was built in 1933 in memory of Italian sailors who perished in World War I. It represents a ship’s rudder, with a small chapel at the base and an observation platform on top (54 m above sea level). In the recess is a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Today, Brindisi is still a busy port, with countless freight ships, tankers and passenger ferries sailing to Greece, Albania and the Middle East. There’s also an airport within walking distance from the city, a deciding factor when choosing our winter mooring. It’s easy to visit the homeland during the cold months, and there are plenty of rental cars available when we feel like taking a road trip.

Duomo, the Cathedral of Brindisi, was completed in 1143. Click the thumbnails to see bigger pictures.
San Giovanni al Sepolcro, a circular church from the 12th century.
The church of Santa Maria del Casale near the airport has wonderful Byzantine frescoes.

Brindisi is a good base for exploring the Apulia region. Nearby, you can find countless historic towns and villages and the most peculiar examples of local peasant architecture, the trullo houses. There are seaside towns with fish markets and beautiful countryside with olive groves and vineyards. 100 kilometres away, on the outskirts of Bari, there’s a certain Swedish furniture shop – a great source of Scandinavian comfort food to combat food-related homesickness. It’s unlikely to be much of a problem, though, at the heart of the glorious Italian gastronomy. In the next episode, we’ll drive around a bit and visit a few interesting places.

Night time picture of our white sailboat between two large motor yachts
Aina, safely tucked between two superyachts at Approdo delle Indie.

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