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Our Lady of Good Council's church

Piazza Santa Maria del Buonconsiglio - 6010 - 70122
Free -
Beginning of construction Between the 9th and 10th century
Current use Church
The northward walk along the “Muraglia” city walls leads to the old town, where narrow streets open up onto the Piazza di Santa Maria del Buonconsiglio (The Square of Our Lady of Good Counsel), one of the old town’s most picturesque corners. The former Byzantine church was demolished in the 1930s consequent to an outrageous refurbishment attempt that aimed to unveil the "Romanesque" side of the city. All that remains today of the original three-nave apsidal church are the Roman columns, some of which topped with Corinthian capitals, and the polychrome mosaic flooring. Local historians were familiar with the legends surrounding the origins of the church. Indeed, it was reportedly constructed following a dispute between the people of Bari and the Byzantines that ended in a killing in 946. The conflict arose when the citizens of Bari rebelled against the Byzantines who had abrogated the right to accompany brides to the altar. Eventually, the piece of “bad advice” that had sparked the blood-shedding, turned into a truce, that is the "good counsel" that gives the church its name. The structure of the former church has very ancient origins. Indeed, archaeological studies carried out in the 1980s revealed that it probably dates back to two construction phases between the 10th and 11th centuries. These investigations unearthed artefacts that cover almost every historical era, tracing the city's history from the Bronze to the Medieval Age.
Beginning of construction Between the 9th and 10th century
Previous buildings Hut dating back to 16th-15th century
The church had been built between the late 9th and mid-10th century. This dating has been confirmed by the discovery of coins of the Byzantine Emperors Theophilus (829-842), Basil (867-886), Leo VI (886-912) and Constantine VII (913-959). The structure has three naves separated by pillars, and the entire ground surface of the church is covered by a mosaic formed with polychrome tiles, laid in panels with varying layout patterns (lozenge, diamond, herringbone, six-petal flower, checkerboard, lattice). This flooring dates back to between the 11th and 12th century when the church underwent total restructuring. Only few surviving tiles remain, however, of the ancient 10th-century mosaic floor. A stratigraphic sampling revealed archaeological strata stretching from before the 9th century to the Bronze Age. As a matter of fact, the bottom of a limestone and clay hut built around the 15th-16th century B.C. was found (currently not visible).
The religious building used to rest upon a late-medieval burial ground whose graves were later damaged by the construction of a tunnel-water cistern. Another two-level, medieval and early medieval burial ground used to be located behind the apse. It had about twenty pit and coffin tombs some of which full of grave goods, such as ceramics, coins, buckles, and jewellery. The existence of these two burial grounds testifies the wealth of the religious settlement, and marks the beginning of the city’s outward expansion (Lavermicocca).
Following the 12th-century renovation, no further information regarding the building is available until 1560 when the church began to host the Augustinian nuns (also called "the Rochets" for their white linen vestment), as well as a “Mount of Piety” (charity pawnshop) instituted by Queen Bona Sforza to assist orphans. When the Queen died in 1557, the orphanage, which continued to operate until 1824, received an inheritance of a thousand escudos (ancient currency) to be used as a dowry for the ten young maidens residing in the structure. After 1824, the church was completely abandoned and ultimately demolished in 1939. In the church, worshippers used to venerate Our Lady of the Angels, portrayed in a 16th-17th-century fresco of which only a reproduction remains today.

Today, the church of Santa Maria del Buonconsiglio (Our Lady of Good Counsel) stands as an open space with upright stone columns. The central axis presents eight columns, that is four symmetrically aligned columns on either side. The remains of two semi-pillars stand along the transverse axis. They face one another and are symmetrically aligned with the central axis columns. Both have a moulded base resting upon a rectangular pilaster, but the semi-pillar on the right side of the apse is topped with a further undefined pillar. This structural layout is the same as that of 11th-century Romanesque churches, such as the Basilica of St. Nicholas, and the Churches of St. Gregory and the Vallisa. The remains of the three-nave apsidal Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel are still visible today thanks to an archaeological excavation and a 1983 restoration project. Indeed, they brought the entire area to light, exposing a tiled floor as well as the church’s external walls. Only six of the eight spolia (re-purposed) columns are crowned by Corinthian and waterleaf capitals. Similar capitals stored in the Swabian Castle courtyard are believed to belong to the first two columns of this church.

Prior to the 1983 restoration works, the square had been heavily disfigured by the construction of sidewalks and a parking lot. However, the accounts of the church in the writings of the historian Antonio Beatillo (Historia di Bari, 1637), and the townspeople’s reverence of an ancient image of the Virgin Mary, of which faint traces remain, underline the important role this church played within the ancient town’s religious context.

A preliminary archaeological exploration was thus performed under the supervision of the Regional Apulian Directorate for Environmental, Architectural, Artistic and Historical Heritage. It brought to light three different levels of the church floor corresponding to three historical phases. The first, deeper layer dates back to the 10th century and corresponds to the original three-nave structure of the church with pillars. The mosaic flooring consists of mixed marble and terra-cotta polychrome tiles laid in regular geometric patterns. A few decades later, the floor slab was raised by 15 cm, maintaining the same type and quality of the original ground covering. The second historical phase dates to the 12th century. It is considered the most important as the flooring, found 80 cm below the current street level, consists of 12x12 and 10x10-centimetre limestone and marble tiles laid out in varying patterns, and covers the entire nave. This bears evidence to a restructuring in which the original pillars were replaced by spolia columns and capitals. The third and final phase dates back to the 17th-18th century and can be determined by the layer discovered 50 centimetres below the road level. This layer includes the church’s perimeter walls, along with the remains of the central nave pillars and a concrete tile floor in poor condition. A study of the outer walls shows the presence of ancient plastered pilasters that, apart from being used as Baroque decorative elements, actually suggest the presence of a vaulted ceiling over the aisles. This marks a significant restructuring of the church that favoured the stay of the “Rochet” nuns, in the building, up to 1824. Thereafter, the church was abandoned and left in a state of disrepair until it was ultimately demolished in 1939. The 1984 refurbishment project restored the flooring, consolidated, the walls, reinforced the columns with stainless steel armatures, and repaired the original roads around the church.

The excavations carried out underneath the church revealed an early medieval burial ground with graves that had been damaged during the construction of a water cistern built by Bartolomeo de Risio. An epigraph, originally located on the church door, which was found on an external church wall, attests this. Another burial ground lies behind the apse and houses over twenty pit and coffin tombs, some containing grave goods. The presence of these two burial grounds underlines the religious importance of the settlement, which reached its peak in the 10th-11th century. This site is also interesting owing to another important discovery made during the 1983 excavations that unveiled the remains of a circular hut behind the apse, dating back to the Bronze Age. The finding of this urban area at the tip of the peninsula on which the city was founded connects it to the nearby St. Peter’s area and makes it one of the earliest areas occupied by the first settlement. The remains of the hut are not currently visible as they were covered at the end of the excavation works.

Information regarding the church is scarce and confusing. It is known that it was first called Santa Maria del Popolo (Our Lady of All Peoples), then, Santa Maria del Malconsiglio (Our Lady of Bad Counsel), and, lastly, Santa Maria del Buonconsiglio (Our Lady of Good Counsel). However, one of the best-known accounts, by Lupo Protospata, describes a sort of "Vespers of Bari", that is a rebellion that broke out against the Byzantines who had claimed the right to accompany local brides to the church altar (Beatillo). The pent-up anger of the young spouses and their relatives had erupted into a violent revolt against the Byzantines during which much blood was shed among the church columns. The riot was finally quelled in the shadow of the sacred temple thanks to the ratification of new rules for a peaceful coexistence. Although this episode cannot be confirmed, it nevertheless bears witness to the historical-social situation of the times and the impact the numerous ethnic groups had on the city’s social fabric.
Another interesting episode is reported in an inscription found on the outer church walls that recounts the generosity of Bartolomeo de Risio who, in 1511, built a cistern to collect water in order to quench the thirst of the poor people oppressed by the summer heat. The text also describes how the water should have been used, and this account can be found in the writings of Beatillo.

How do I reach downtown?
airport Airport  

From Viale Enzo Ferrari continue in the direction of Strada Provinciale 204 / Viale Gabriele d'Annunzio / SP204.
Take Viale Europa, SS16, Via Napoli and Corso Vittorio Veneto in the direction of Via Venice to Bari.
Follow Via Venezia and Largo Papa Urbano II to Piazza S. Nicola.

motorway Toll road  

From the toll booth at Bari Sud of the Autostrada A14,
Take E843, Viale Giuseppe Tatarella, the underpass Sottopassaggio Giuseppe Filippo, Via Brigata Regina.
Continue on Corso Antonio de Tullio in the direction of Via Venezia to Bari.
Follow Via Venezia and Largo Papa Urbano II to Piazza S. Nicola.

other Public Transport  

AMTAB A bus lines (rest area in Piazza Massari) #2, #10, #12/, and #35 stop near Largo Abate Elia.

park Parking lots  

Lungomare Imperatore Augusto-Area Parcheggio Museo Archeologico

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