I have prepared for you a detailed guide to what to do and see in Cisternino, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
Cisternino lies in the heart of the beautiful Itria Valley in Puglia in the province of Brindisi, in an area called Murgia dei trulli. In fact, it is surrounded by green countryside full of centuries-old olive trees, vineyards and old trulli, making this wonderful village a popular destination for travelers from all over the world. It is also famous for its incredible food and wine and for the spontaneous architecture of its historic center; the latter, with its 5 neighborhoods of Bère Vècchie, Scheledd, u Pantène, L’Isule and U BBùrie (built outside the Angevin walls), has managed to retain its old Oriental charm over time.
Regardless of the time of year, strolling through its streets gives well-being and relaxation. You will find tree-lined alleys everywhere, small squares where you can breathe in the scent of barbecued meat, white houses leaning against each other, stately palaces, stone masks and characteristic stairways engraved with famous phrases.In addition, since 2021, you can also find numerous swings of all types and sizes. That’s why this town is also called “The Rocking Village”. And it doesn’t end there! Cisternino in addition to being one of the “most beautiful villages in Italy”, adheres to “Green Flag Agriculture”, “Orange Flag of the Italian Touring Club” and is part of the international network of “Slow Cities”.
This village has a very ancient history dating back to the Paleolithic era and, over time, has undergone several names. The name Cisternino is said to derive from the Trojan hero “Sturnoi” who, after the Trojan War, is said to have founded “Sturninum” (present-day Ostuni), later occupied by the Romans and then sacked by the Goths. During the Middle Ages, Basilian monks revived it and named it “the area of Cisternino” (Cis-Sturnium, meaning on this side of Sturnium).
In this guide, I will outline the best things to do and see in and around Cisternino, starting with its historic center. I will give you lots of useful tips to get the best out of this charming little town, easily visited in a day or several days. If you plan to extend your stay, we will go to discover enchanting villages nearby (such as Martina Franca, Ostuni, Locorotondo and Alberobello) under the banner of food and wine, history, art and culture, sports, but also nature and relaxation.
Now you just have to follow me! I will create for you an easy and practical tourist itinerary to visit Cisternino, but also to discover what to do and see in the surroundings for all tastes. Let’s get going! 👇
What to see in Cisternino
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The historic center of Cisternino is easy to visit on foot. Near its entrance there are several paid parking lots, but a little further down there are also many free parking lots, from Via Roma to the large municipal parking lot. In this guide we will discover together the major attractions to see in Cisternino during your vacation, starting right from its historic center!
1. Garibaldi Square
Piazza Garibaldi is a great place to start your visit to Cisternino. From this square, you can admire a crazy scenery on the Itria Valley and unearth the various trulli that pop up here and there. Located on one side of the square is the Municipal Villa and on the other the Norman-Swabian Tower (Torre Grande) with the Porta Grande and the Mother Church dedicated to St. Nicholas.
The Torre Grande, thanks to its 18 meters in height, was the most imposing of the ancient city walls and was probably used as a lookout tower. in fact, it is no coincidence that it stands on the highest point of the hill, guarding the Itria Valley.
2. Mother Church of St. Nicholas Pataras
It is the most important church in Cisternino. The characteristic neoclassical facade has been renovated over time and the interior is very impressive due to the presence of precious works, impressive columns with capitals made of stone and the chapels on the sides. Before you leave, you should definitely see the most important masterpiece located along the right aisle of the church, namely the “Madonna and Child” carved in stone by Stefano di Putignano in 1517 for Paolo Longo and his brother. In addition to the Madonna and Child on the throne (while being crowned by two angels), the two patrons are also depicted kneeling on the sides.
3. Porta Piccenne
In Piazza Mazzini, between the Governor’s Palace and the Church of Santa Lucia is the historic Porta “Piccenne” (Small Door), one of the access points for the historic center of Cisternino. This very old gate separates the “modern” part of the town from the “historic” part, where everything has been kept enchantingly the same for years, with the traditional white houses, wonderful churches, flowering squares and narrow streets that give life to one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy.”
4. Vittorio Emanuele Square with the clock tower
This square, also known as “Clock Square” because of the Clock Tower inside of it, is one of the symbolic places of Cisternino. Here every year, in addition to various commercial activities related to catering and handicrafts, the “festival of singing stones” takes place punctually in the summertime, making the square a comfortable outdoor living room for citizens and tourists alike.
5. St. Mary of Constantinople Street
Walking along this charming street, you will have the chance to admire two important testimonies of popular devotion: the Madonna of the Carpenter (a painting on wood) and a trace of a fresco, also of the Virgin.
6. Historic Palaces
In Cisternino, tourism has developed in the last decade mainly thanks to the spontaneous architecture of the historic center, which intrigues tourists from all over the world every year. Of the examples of “spontaneous architecture” present in Cisternino are definitely its majestic historic palaces. Among them we find:
- The Governor’s Palace
- Bishop’s Palace
- Amati Palace
- Lagravinese Palace
- Devitofranceschi Palace
- Capece Tower
7. The swings and murals of Cisternino
As previously reported, from 2021 (following the precarious pandemic situation) in the historic center of Cisternino you will have the chance to find many swings of different types and sizes (the reason for the nickname “The Rocking Village”). You can decide whether to stay upside down to read the inscriptions engraved on the swings hanging in the alleys, or to go and discover the ones installed in the most hidden corners of the village. They are all very colorful and really characteristic; it is impossible not to want to unearth them all! Some are dedicated to Frida Kahlo, Rino Gaetano and Dante’s Divine Comedy.
8. The Gardens of Pomona
In the Itria Valley, a short distance from the Adriatic Sea, are “The Gardens of Pomona.” Biodiversity reigns in this place: inside are many different varieties of fruit trees from all over the world, many of them saved from extinction, making up a botanical history trail of traditional and rare plants. An important collection present is the one dedicated to the species “Ficus carica” (the fig tree).
9. Church of San Quirico
Legend has it that when the plague came to all of Apulia, at the place where the church now stands, Saint Quirico appeared and with a miraculous gesture succeeded in ridding the city of the plague. So it was that the people, driven by a sense of gratitude, decided to build the church of Saint Quirico on that very spot.
Externally, the church’s facade is flat and softened by a rose window; internally, however, it consists of a single nave. In the center of the altar is a canvas depicting the Martyrdom of St. Quirico and St. Giulitta, and on the sides are statues of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua.
10. MAAAC (Museum Area Archaeological Contemporary Art)
An area designated for this museum was recently opened in the complex of the Church of St. Nicholas of Patara and the Norman Swabian Tower. This is a small exhibition area that is absolutely not to be missed. This museum hosts several temporary exhibitions and events dedicated to art every year. If there is any exhibition in the period when you visit Cisternino, I suggest you take the opportunity to organize a visit, especially if you are an art lover… You will see, you will not regret it!
11. The Church of St. Mary of Constantinople
This church (also called St. Anne’s) stands outside of the city and, following the Bourbon decree of 1840, was designated to house the city’s cemetery.
It was formerly named “Church of St. Mary of Constantinople” in honor of the patroness from the plague. The second title, on the other hand, was dedicated to St. Anne when she was named patroness of artisans. Since then the artisans of Cisternino have organized the famous fair on September 8, carrying in procession the sculpture of the “Virgin and Child” (now kept in the Church of St. Nicholas Patara).
12. Amati Palace and Madonnina Bridge
This is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Cisternino, located along Via San Quirico, not far from the Norman Swabian Tower.
At its highest point, this bridge houses the “Chirico Bistrot,” an establishment with a charming outdoor terrace perfect for having an aperitif at sunset and admiring the majesty of the Itria Valley. But that’s not all… This evocative place is often the location of various initiatives: one year, during the program of the “Borgo che dondola” (the municipality’s summer event), the bridge was decorated with 33 hanging doilies, a real sight!
13. Sanctuary of the Madonna d’Ibernia
Three kilometers from the town of Cisternino, in the Lamacesare district, is the Sanctuary of the Madonna d’Ibernia (or de Bernis), whose veneration is linked to fertility and abundance, derived from the cult of the “goddess Cybele.” Therefore, on Easter Monday a cake is given to the Madonna, which was traditionally offered to “Cybele” to ensure abundance.
Visit Cisternino and its surroundings
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Near the village of Cisternino, there are several places to visit to discover the wonderful Itria Valley. Not far from the center of Cisternino is Locorotondo, a charming village in the province of Bari, famous for its “cummerse” (characteristic dwellings). Walking through its narrow streets, it is easy to be struck by the fairy-tale atmosphere it offers, including panoramic views, terraces and small ancient churches.
Another place not to be missed during your Apulian vacation is Ostuni, a really pretty village known as “the White City,” a favorite destination for Italian and foreign tourists. I recommend you discover its romantic views, its most famous clubs, its beautiful beaches and The Coastal Dunes Natural Park, one of the main attractions near Cisternino. The park stretches along the coast of the Adriatic Sea and includes several lagoons and sand dunes. In this fantastic place, you can take long walks and enjoy the beauty of nature.
The wonders to see do not end there! About a 20-minute drive from Cisternino you will have the chance to get lost among the long stretches of trulli in the historic center of Alberobello, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or be enchanted by the majesty of the Baroque palaces of Martina Franca and its Ducal Palace.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to visit the small towns located near the coast of the Adriatic Sea, I recommend enjoying a fresh ice cream among the sheer balconies overlooking the sea of lively Polignano a Mare or organizing a boat tour from the Gulf of Monopoli to discover crystal-clear bays.
What to do in Cisternino?
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So far we have seen what to see in Cisternino, but in this town there are also several activities to do! That’s why I thought I’d suggest the ones you shouldn’t miss during your vacation:
- Stroll or shop through the streets of the center, looking for the most interesting handicrafts such as those crocheted in lace.
- Discover its delicious cuisine or enjoy an aperitif in typical trattorias and eateries
- Taste some characteristic street food
- Take memorable photos from the “Belvedere,” one of the best vantage points in Cisternino, located near the municipal villa
The experiences to be had are not only these! Cisternino is a perfect place where you can do different activities surrounded by nature. In this town, you will have the opportunity to organize a hike along the limestone plateau of the Murgia dei Trulli or take a relaxing carriage or bicycle ride. The bicycle path par excellence is that of the Apulian Aqueduct, one of the longest in Italy! Completely surrounded by greenery, it welcomes cyclists, runners and walkers who can take advantage of 230 km of pathway away from city traffic.
Local food and wine
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I could not end this guide on the best things to see in Cisternino without mentioning its incredible food and wine.
Those who come on vacation to Cisternino also do so to taste its famous extra virgin olive oil, also called “the liquid gold of Puglia,” and its fragrant and fresh wines such as Locorotondo DOC, Martina Franca DOC, Cisternino and Ostuni DOC, IGT Puglia.
After taking an atmospheric tour of the town’s historic center, there is nothing better than entering a typical trattoria or butcher shop with braceria and savoring the various typical dishes that Cisternino has to offer. There are several butcher shops where you can choose, in addition to the characteristic bombette (meat rolls stuffed with cheese), any type of fresh meat such as lamb heads, sausage and gnumeredd’ (lamb innards rolls) cooked on the spot. A real delicacy!
Of course, in addition to these, there are other sweet and savory specialties to sample. These include the characteristic friselle with tomatoes and extra-virgin olive oil, tasty sugared almonds, cold cuts, cheeses, orecchiette with turnip tops or in sauce with pecorino cheese, taralli, panzerotti, and much more.
Moreover, if you would like to make your experience even more unforgettable, I would recommend taking part in evocative cooking classes or simply take advantage of the tasting tours of the most representative typical specialties, cooked by local people!
Most important events
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I leave below some events and festivals not to be missed during your vacation in Cisternino:
- At Christmas, the village becomes even more poetic; it is filled with Christmas decorations, illuminations and different decorations
- “Pasquareddè,” the Easter festival
- International festival of musical bands “Valle d’Itria”
- Feast of patron saints quirico and giulitta
- Wine and food tour “Borgo diVino”
- Eco-Festival of Flavors
How to get to Cisternino
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This town is well connected to the rest of Italy and is easily accessible:
- By car on the highway: for those coming from the north, you must take the Bari north exit and follow the signs for SS 16 towards Brindisi. On the other hand, for those coming from the south, one must first follow the signs for SS 16 towards Brindisi, then take the Brindisi-Lecce highway exit.
- By train via the following stations: Polignano a Mare, Monopoli, Fasano (the nearest), Ostuni. In addition, the town is served by the Ferrovie Sud Est line.
- By plane via the following airports: that of Brindisi, which is 50 km from Cisternino, and those of Bari 80 km away. Here you will find several connections via buses and shuttles with which to reach inland towns, including Cisternino.
Now that you know what to see in Cisternino, all that’s left is for me to wish you a happy trip to Puglia! 😉
Cover photo: jose-jovena-unsplash
Featured photo: florin-kozma-unsplash