Conversano is an ancient town and comune of Bari province in the Italian region of Puglia. It is located 30 km (19 mi) SE of Bari, 7 km (4 mi) from the Adriatic coast, at 219 m (719 ft) above sea-level.
The counts of Conversano had a stud where they raised mostly black Neapolitan horses with Barb and Andalusian genetic background, strong ram-like heads, short backs, broad hocks. One such horse, born 1767, and in line with a tradition named also Conversano, became one of the principal stallions for establishing the Lipizzan horses (Lipizzaner).
Conversano was settled as early as the Iron Age, when the Iapyges or the Paucetii founded on the hill a town known as Norba. Later, as showed by the 6th century BC necropolis, it became a flourishing trade town which was influenced by the nearby Greek colonies. It was conquered by the Romans in 268 BC. Norba seems to have been abandoned around the time of the Visigothic invasion of Italy in 410-411.
The toponym Casale Cupersanem is known from the 5th century AD, and was a bishopric seat from the 7th century. This new town gained importance when, in 1054, the Norman lord Goeffrey took the title of "Count of Conversano" and turned it into the capital of a large county which extended up to Lecce and Nardò. After his death in 1101, the county was inherited in sequence by his sons Robert and Alexander. In 1132, defeated by Roger II of Sicily, Alexander fled to Dalmatia, the county being assigned to Robert I of Bassunvilla, who was succeeded by his son Robert II of Bassunvilla, in turn succeeded by Robert III of Loritello. After a period under the direct royal sovereignty, it was a possession of Bernardino Gentile and of the Brienne, the Enghien, Luxembourg, Sanseverino, Barbiano, Orsini, Caldora and Orsini del Balzo families. In 1455 Giovanni Antonio del Balzo Orsini died, and the county was inherited by his daughter Catherine, whose husband Giulio Antonio Acquaviva started the long rule of the Acquaviva family, which was to last until the early 19th century.
In 1690 the town was struck by plague and decimated. Feudality was abolished in 1806.
In 1921 a local socialist deputy, Giuseppe Di Vagno, was assassinated in Mola di Bari by Fascist militia.
Conversano's main attractions is the medieval Castle dating from the period of Norman-Hohenstaufen rule in the Kingdom of Sicily. It is located on a hill commanding the city, and dates probably to the Gothic Wars (6th century), though it was rebuilt starting from the 11th century. It has a single round tower added by Giulio Antonio Acquaviva.
The Romanesque cathedral is the see of the diocese of Conversano-Monopoli. It was built in the 11th century, but received new decorations in the 14th and, in Baroque style, in the 17th centuries. The exterior is in Romanesque style with a large 15th century rose window and three portals, the middle one having sculpted decoration; the plan has a T-shape with two eastbound apses, the aisles being characterized by matronaei and, in the left one, a 15th century fresco from the Pisan school. The church houses the icon of the Madonna della Fonte, protector of the city.
The Benedictine Monastery, founded, according to tradition, in the 6th century, was once one of the most powerful in Apulia. The Benedictines were expelled in the mid-13th century, begin replaced by a group of Cistercian nuns from Greece in 1266. It was the only convent in western Europe whose nuns could wear male religious symbols (such as the mitre). The church has maintained part of the 11th century walls, while the decorated side entrance is from 1658. The interior has a nave and two aisles with Baroque decorations and two canvasses by Paolo Finoglio. The crypt, dedicated to San Mauro, is from the 11th century. The bell tower has the particularity to have been designed higher than that of the cathedral, to symbolize the superior status enjoyed by the nuns over the local bishop.
Other landmarks include the Megalithic walls (6th century BC) erected by the Pelasgi, the Baroque church of SS. Cosma e Damiano, the church of St. Francis (1289) and, 1 km outside the city, that of St. Catherine (c. 12th century). In the neighborhood are the church of Santa Maria dell'Isola (1462, enlarged in 1530), the Castle of Marchione (a 18th century country residence of the Acquaviva) and the ruins of Castiglione (13th-16th centuries).
The local handball team won the national league in the 2002–03 2003–04 2005–06 2009–10 seasons.
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