Guide to Monopoli, Puglia

Guide to Monopoli, Puglia

The town of Monopoli lies in the Puglia region of Italy. It is known for its many churches, one of the most famous being the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio delta del Purgatori, which houses an archaeological crypt. The seaside town is a great day trip for those visiting Puglia, with a harbour and beach to explore and relax.

Church in Monopoli, Puglia. The church is centre of the image with blue skies. Yellow buildings are either side of the street, leading to the church.

The World Heritage Site of Alberobello is filled with streets of white trulli, the town is a short drive from Monopoli. Read more about its history here – Guide To Alberobello, Puglia!

A short history of Monopoli

Monopoli’s name translates to ‘only city’, after inhabitants of Gnathia fled here in AD 545, when Ostrogoth King Total destroyed their city. The town now has a population of c. 50,000 inhabitants and functions as an agricultural, industrial and tourist spot.

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Things to see in Monopoli

Visiting the town on a slow Sunday restricted most of our visit to wandering the quiet streets and taking in the beauty of the buildings. White washed buildings line the streets, with beautiful blooms of flowers framing doorways and filling window boxes, while potted cacti stand tall against the buildings.

A street in Monopoli, Puglia, with flowers covering the left side of the image. A white washed building is centre background and a yellow sandstone wall is on the right, with bushes growing up it.
A street in Monopoli, Puglia. At the forefront on the right is a yellow sandstone building with balcony and sign saying "Gioielli". The street is lined with white washed buildings. in front of each building is tall cacti.

The Churches of Monopoli

Wandering around the town, I lost track counting how many churches we passed – in fact, the old town of Monopoli is home to no less than 19 Medieval churches and cathedrals. Each church exceeds the last in decor, with uniquely beautiful designs carved into the stone.

Church in Monopoli, Puglia. The church is three stories tall. The wooden door is centre. Above it is a large circular stained glass window. On either side is alcoves.
Church in Monopoli, The church has a curved upper story and a cross at the very top. There is a large window centre, and statues on either side.

Chiesa di Santa Maria

One of the churches that immediately caught my attention was Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio delta del Purgatorio, which dominates the street aptly named Via Purgatorio. The outside is decorated with carved skulls and skeletons – an unusual form of decoration for a church, and something I haven’t seen outside of graveyards and cemeteries. The history of the church is extremely interesting, as it is a church of Purgatory. The church was built in the 17th Century, after the Protestant Reformation argued ideas such as Purgatory. As a result, Catholics constructed purgatory churches, as  a form of reaffirmation of the idea. The church is dedicated to the passage of life to death, and is a place where people could pray for those who were in limbo. Symbols of death decorate the church, in order to remind those who sin of the suffering of purgatory. Near the entrance of the church, and visible through the doorway, are mummies dating to the 18th and 19th century, who were founding members of the church, local administrators and the mummy of a child. The mummies are dressed in robes and displayed in cabinets.

The door of the cheese di Santa Maria, in Monopoli Puglia. The iron door has skeletons on it and the stone around the door is carved with skulls and cross bones.

The Harbour and beaches

As well as churches, Monopoli is also home to a beautiful harbour, filled with fishing boats, and a seafront promenade, where tourists were spending their Sunday lounging on towels and soaking in the sun. Along the alleyways beside the old harbour were cute boutiques and souvenir shops, filled with seaside themed trinkets  made from shells or capturing the beauty of the area.

The beach in Monopoli, Puglia. The sky is blue, the sea is a deep blue / green. A tall sandstone wall runs from the left to centre of the image. Tourists are in the water swimming and on the small area of sand.

Of course, being in a seaside town it was only right to give some of their seafood a try, and we stopped for lunch at Piazza Palmieri, a seafood restaurant. I had my favourite dish – seafood linguine – which had a delicious mix of local seafood.

I would recommend Monopoli to anyone looking for a base to explore the Puglia region, as the town has a perfect mix of things to explore while still having a slow and relaxing atmosphere. Let me know if you’ve been, or are planning to visit!


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Published by Emily Johnston

Archaeologist and Heritage Tourist Blogger at

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