The history of Apricena must be deepened with a tour in the surroundings. Moreover, you cannot speak of the city without referring to its stone and its quarries, given that it represents the second extractive basin in Italy after that of Carrara. And how the Tuscan city is famous throughout the world for its marble that varies in its shades from beige to ivory to rosé.
Quarries, wines and goodness of the territory
We visited one of the largest open-air quarries in Europe, that of the Franco Dell’Erba Group in the company of Biagio Cruciani and Giuseppe Tedesco who introduced us to this unknown world so far.
We admired the quarry from above, embracing its enormous extension, then we went down among the machinery, the stone blocks and the walls with marked veins. They have explained to us that this stone is very appreciated as it is hard but versatile and ideal for its technical qualities for aesthetic and artistic needs.
The extraction techniques are variable: from the explosive one, in which the fuse is inserted in special perforations, to the cut that is made through cutting saws. The slabs are then moved through mechanical shovels and the next cut is made to give them the shape of a parallelepiped: the very ones from which we are surrounded!
The Apricena stone is part of the classification of marble as it is – continues Cruciani – of material that can be polished: the word “marble” in fact derives from the Greek verb “shine”. It is found stratified in banks of variable thickness, separated from each other by a layer of clay and with similar chemical compositions but with different colors. From these take the main ones that are are Biancone, Bronzetto, Fiorito and Serpeggiante.
Renzo Piano in the church of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo made extensive use of the Bronzetto variety, while for the Apple headquarters in Cupertino the famous architect Norman Foster preferred the Serpeggiante, with its refined veins.
From the present to the prehistory: they have told to us that right here in the quarry Dell’Erba in the place of Pirro Nord, during the stone extraction works, an abundant presence of fossils dating back to the upper Villafranchiano was found, a period between 1.7 and 1.3 million years ago. Not only. Not far away, in another quarry owned by the Dell’Erba family, researchers have recognized the traces of three nails imprinted in the stone by a herd of prehistoric animals and now, having stopped the extraction works, they’re studying the creation of a archaeological park.
While in the quarry we visited the blue van used by Vasco Rossi to shoot the videoclip «A better world» was remained: how to resist the usual photo?
The quarries are also linked to the production of wine: the characteristics of the soil allow the vineyards to have a product with interesting organoleptic characteristics. So it becomes a must to visit the Cantine Le Grotte (Provincial Road 38 Apricena – San Nazario km.4,00 – “Fondo delle Grotte” – +39 0882 642321 – email@example.com), a reality born in 2013 thanks to the recovery by the agricultural company of the Franco Dell’Erba Group of the centuries-old winemaking tradition that characterizes the Fondo Grotte territory from which it takes its name.
The vineyards extend over an area of 60 hectares at the foot of the Gargano and overlook the Lesina lagoon until they visually embrace the Tremiti Islands in the background. The grapes processed in the newly built modern and functional cellar come from the Merlot, Syrah, Montepulciano, Primitivo and Nero di Troia varieties for the reds, and from Bombino, Trebbiano, Moscato, Falanghina and Chardonnay for the whites. In the barrel room, in 120 oak barrels, rest the best productions of red grapes, while guests and customers are welcomed in the tasting room where the company’s production of Peranzana extra virgin olive oil is also proposed.
Near the cellars, following the ancient road that leads from Apricena to Sannicandro Garganico, you come across a mule track that, through the dark valley dotted with caves, leads to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria Selva della Rocca. Probably built between the VIII and IX centuries by the Benedictine monks of San Vincenzo al Volturno, in the XI century it was restored by the Teutonic Knights of Barletta. Until the last century the sanctuary was a place of pilgrimage by the inhabitants of Aprica but at present the building is in a state of neglect.
Not easy and not for all, the trek through the woods and rocks towards the fortress of Castelpagano, placed on a spur of the Gargano massif. Definitely abandoned after the earthquake of 30 July 1627, in reality the village was depopulated many centuries before certainly due to the difficulties of water supply and consequent drought and pestilence. Legend has it that the site has always been a den of vipers too and that the very high number of these reptiles caused the inhabitants to be definitively removed.
The excavation campaigns, begun in 2000, have instead clarified that most likely the cause was a terrible fire that destroyed much of the village. What remains today of Castelpagano is formed by the two main buildings: the castle, with an irregular quadrilateral plan with keep and two circular towers, and the church with rosette-paved stonework and an area used as a necropolis.
From here come the skeletons preserved in the Civic Museum housed at the Casa della Cultura along with ceramic, bronze, silver and various coins.
The encolpion is very interesting, representing the upper part of a two-sided cross reliquary on which is engraved a splendid Christ in Byzantine style, and a small Greek cross in turquoise paste engraved on both sides and in perfect condition .
On the road that leads to the grotto of San Michele sul Gargano, there are the remains of the Monastery of San Giovanni in Piano, which was built around the middle of the 11th century in the territory of the county of Lesina, where St. Francis of Assisi stayed in his pilgrimage to the Celestial Basilica of the Archangel and Pope Celestine V in his flight to the East with the boarding planned by Peschici, but imprisoned there.
At this point all that remains is to give our suggestions on where to stop for lunch or dinner and for the night.
We enjoyed the gastronomic specialties of the territory at the Trattoria da Nonna Peppina where Mariagrazia Ferrandino and her son Michele Falcone spoiled us with local dishes, wines and oils, while the dreams of all three were cradled in the walls of the B&B Corso Roma (Piazzale Andrea Costa 2 – +39 346 3582687) where we were guests of one of the four comfortable rooms overlooking Piazzale Andrea Costa in the heart of the city.
Before leaving, bring something with you that will make you come back with your mind and palate to Apricena: stop by Michele Sabatino (Via Roma, 50 – +39 0882 643190), who works the meat as it once was, for hams of black pigs of the Dauni Mountains, the muscisca of the Gargano goat and the podolica cow tartare of the Gargano. And from the Santucci Butcher’s Shop (Via Matteotti, 1 – +39 0882 641156) where the young Antonio is committed to producing quality cold cuts, so much as to receive this year’s prize for the best delicatessen in Puglia Salami Category in the second edition of the Puglia Food Awards.