Il nome “Gravina” proviene dalle gravine, spaccature della crosta terrestre simili a canyon, depressione del terreno prodotta da erosione.
Gravina in Puglia is a town in the province of Bari. It has about 44,300 inhabitants and it is situated along a river of the same name in the Western Murgia, 338 meters above sea level. It is the seat of the Alta Murgia National Park.
The name of the town derives from the typical geographical surrounding – the ravines (in Italian “Gravine”).
The coat of arms is dived in two fields: on the left there are golden ears of wheat on blue field; on the right there is a grapevine over a golden field. The blue and gold colours were considered divine; they represent power and distinction. After the First Crusade (1099), they were the colours of the Empire and later they became the colours of the aristocracy. It should be noted that these colours were used by the peoples of Northern Europe, thus assuming that they were imported and adopted by the Normans, the first lords of the city. Beyond conjecture and meanings, the colours of the coat of arms derive from the colour of wheat and grapes which grow and ripen under the sky and the sun, from which they draw the gold and blue, also a symbols of the gold metal and sapphire gemstone. The shield is surrounded by a branch of laurel and a branch of oak, tied down by a ribbon with the same colour, with the motto “GRAN DAT ET VINA” (“it offers wheat and wine”). This motto was given by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Many still believe that the name of the town derives from this motto, as well as by the main production of the area – wheat and wine. It is the karst formation though, that gives the name to the city.
The local inhabitants are referred to as gravinesi.
Because of its strategic position from a geographical point of view, Gravina has an important history. In fact, it was already inhabited in the Palaeolithic Age, due to numerous archaeological findings, while the oldest and most significant findings date back to the Neolithic age, around 5950 BC.
In the Iron Age was founded the first settlements on the Botromagno hill, located near the current town. The ancient population, who had escaped from the historical and natural events on the Botromagno hill, took refuge in the “Gravina” (ravine) and populated the caves already inhabited in earlier times.
Gravina, located in the road connecting the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic Sea, had the influence of the Greeks and Romans. It is still difficult to establish whether the town was in the territory of the Peucetian, of the Daunia- Peucetian or even in the Iapigian area, because the boundaries, at that time, were not well defined. Initially, all Apulia was inhabited by one ethnic group, the Iapigii, and later by three separate groups (Tapigi, Dauni, and Peucetians). However, the Greek culture is evident in the VI century BC with the Peucetii domination. In the IV century, the Samnites dominated the city. Between the VIII and IV century BC, the country experienced a period of particular cultural and economic prosperity as a result of the intensification of relations with the Greek world. Towards the end of this period the city, called Sidion, was equipped with strong walls and minted its own coins.
Conquered by the Romans in 305 BC, it took the name of Silvium, becoming an important agricultural and commercial centre along the Via Appia, which linked Rome to Brindisi. It was during this period that the inhabitants converted to Christianity, mixing the pagan and the Christian cult, which has left traces in the present days.
The Byzantines took over the Roman domination, with several wars that left the town devastated. The weakness of the Byzantine rule, threatened by the Muslim from the south and Barbarians from the north, ended the life of the old city, which had to restart its life in the “Gravina” caves. In fact, the inhabitants took refuge in the caves close to the stream Gravina, thus starting the wonderful and complex historical cycle that goes by the name of Civiltà Rupestre (meaning that they lived in the caves of the ravine).
The external dangers were not stopped by the central government or from the city, because it was taken by religious wars.
The city was in fact divided it into two factions: one led by the Byzantine Church and the other in favour of the Latin Church, which in turn was divided by the Basilian and the Benedictine orders. This separation was the subject of constant struggles and fights, which favoured at times one or the other. Among these disagreements the Saracens (that in the meanwhile were ruling Sicily) took the opportunity to take over the city.
From 476 to 1050 Gravina revived again between two districts of Fondovico and Piaggio, which constituted the new centre found by the Normans, following a free and spontaneous urban settling. The two medieval districts met the standard of the Medieval Age, with caves and houses inhabited by the humble population, and “Palatia” houses, inhabited by the noblemen. The districts were typical of that period, with internal streets and different churches surrounded by town walls, as a defence against criminals or, in the event of hostilities, the enemy. The defence was entrusted to the walls, but especially to the urban settings and by the citizens, who had to look after their safety. On the contrary, the wealthy landowners were safe in their fortified palaces, with many escape routes made of underground shelters. The roads were generally narrow and blocked on one side, because they had to serve as barriers in case of attack. After the XIII century there was an urban development with the construction of churches and palaces outside the city walls.
Under the Normans, in order to elevate Gravina to the status of diocese, the first bishop was appointed, Guido Manila,. The cathedral was then built near the Norman castle, between the two districts of Piaggio and Fondovico. With the bishopric see, Gravina became an important fief and “civitas”, owning all the rights and privileges given by the temporal and spiritual authority.
Frederick II of Swabia promoted the city into Seat of the General Curia for Puglia and Basilicata. Around the year 1006 Gravina became County. After the Hauteville family, the Aleramici family took over, and the town became a marquisate. Gilberto d’Aigle made Gravina head of the Giustizierato of the Terra di Bari. Unfortunately he fell into disgrace and was replaced by a member of de Say family, who held it until 1250. The De Say dynasty did little for the city, indeed they only exploited as feudal lords. Thus the town decayed as a powerful commercial centre. Later the fief was run by Frederick’s son, Manfredi.
Between 1267 and 1380 Gravina was fief under the House of Anjou, then under the Anjou family, and later under the Hungarian dynasty. During this same period Gravina in Puglia became a State town. With Giovanna I, Gravina lived a difficult period with civil and internal wars, after she murdered her husband Andrew of Hungary. Gravina in fact separated into two groups: the Angevin on one side and the Hungarian on the other side. During the war, those struggles were at the expense of the citizens, who were subject to raids and punishments. The Anjou held the estate until 1380 when it took over the Orsini family belonging to the Taranto branch and later those belonging to the Roman branch. In 1420 Francesco Orsini received from Giovanna II the estate promoting it to the capital of his dukedom.
After Francesco Orsini many dukes ruled Gravina, but none of them manage to improve the status of the city. The history of the Orsini family is in fact characterized by mistreatment and abuse, but sometimes even good acts. Their domination also influenced the life of the State town, where they had direct influence choosing directly the ruling lords, often belonging to their family. We cannot forget the Duke Ferdinand and his wife Giovanna Frangipane della Tolfa, which promoted the economy, the culture, the art and the construction in Gravina. They also honoured the city with his son Vincenzo Maria Orsini, who became Pope Benedict XIII ( 1724).
The Orsini family ruled for a very long period(1380-1816), and they were subject to the events of the Kingdom of Naples. The social and economic conditions of Gravina weren’t always good. Evidences can be found in the reports of apostolic and royal visitors.
In this long period the city underwent feudal oppression, from the high clergy and from the local oligarchy. In the XIII century monks from the orders of chivalry came in Gravina: the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller, who owned houses and large estates.
The Austrians and the Bourbons further oppressed the city life, so that in Gravina many citizens were revolutionaries and patriots from 1799 until the unification of Italy.
The adoption of the cannon influenced not only the type of fortification, but even the shape of the city, having a circular form, suggesting the possibility to enclose the town with a minimal construction of the city walls. This outline allowed avoiding blind spots on the walls where the enemy could hide. The invention of the bastion allowed the defenders to keep each section of wall from each lateral position, and to strike the enemy from the side before trying to climb the walls, and also to fight indoors. The adoption of fortified walls changed the design of Gravina. The plan of the city was drawn from outside the wall first, and later from the inside. Due to defensive reasons it was justified the adoption of a radial pattern which was considered the most suited to defend the city.
The Baroque town instead developed following multi-functional purposes. In the XIX century the city developed with a chessboard layout, typical of this period, because the inhabitants they were tired of moving among the narrow streets of the town. The new buildings outside the walls had a regular shapes and they were free from the road map; it was the latter that had to adapt to the buildings development. In contrast, in the old town, the road defined the shape of the urban space that was generally very irregular.
Gravina lived the historical events between the end of the XIX and the XX century, giving its contribution to the Unification of Italy and World War I. After the Unification the city was able to enjoy the freedom and independence from the Bourbon dynasty. In the city there have always been social inequalities, because there was a rich middle class consisting of rich landowners, and a majority of poor labourers, mostly unemployed and exploited.