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Love culture and hiking? Why you should visit the Abbey of Saint Mary of Pulsano in Gargano then.

 

 If you love cultural trips and hiking, Pulsano in Gargano is a place you may enjoy a lot. If you additionally like small medieval churches, you difinitely should visite the Abbey of Saint Mary of Pulsano (Abbazia di Santa Maria di Pulsano). I know that there are thousands of churches around Italy, so why bother going right there? Well, the church in Pulsano hasn’t got even the wow factor, but I think it’s still worth seeing it.

A medieval buliding covered with grape plants.
The Abbey of Saint Mary of Pulsano.

 

I don’t believe so I’m not religious at all, but I like medieval churches. I just love them as structures, very simple, usually beautiful, with great internal, often natural lighting. For me, the Abbey of Saint Mary is interesting not only as of the building but also because of its long past and hermitages in the mountains around it.

The rocky hills with caves covered with plants.
The mountains with hidden hermitages.

A bit of history.

The abbey was built in the 6th century. The founders of medieval abbeys tended to build churches on the ruins of pagan temples. This was also the case of the Abbey in Pulsano in Gargano, which replaced the temple devoted to Calchas, son of Thestor, who was a priest of Apollo.
The abbey was later on destroyed by Saracens and rebuilt in the 12th century by pilgrims. The place was abandoned in 1969 and probably would have shared the fate of many abandoned buildings in Italy. However, a group of volunteers from Manfredonia had decided to restore the Abbey. They started their job in 1991, and thanks to its hard job, the abbey was reopened in 1997.

A complex of medieval buildings standing on the hill.
The abbey how it looks today.

After reopening, the abbey attracted many religious people, who formed a new Latin and Byzantine monastic community in Gargano.

 

An orthodox cross hanging above icons in the church in a cave,
The altar with orthodox cross and icones.

 

The community is pretty self-sufficient, as its members grow vegetables and farm herds, so they have their own food.

A sheep eating grass on the grass behind a woodent fence.
The community breeds sheep and other animals.

 

They also have taken care of over 20.000 religious texts, which are kept in a high-tech library. If you want, you can stay in the abbey for a short period. Well, at the moment I’m not really sure how is now because of covid, but it was possible before the pandemic. I think the possibility of spending a dozen or so days in the monastery may be attractive for believers, and also for people who want to calm and slow down. You can learn some new skills too, as the abbey community provides iconography and other workshops.

Pulsano in Gargano is a religious place, but you don’t need to be a believer to enjoy it.

The church itself is picturesque and it’s situated in the Gargano mountains. From there you can see a nice panoramic view of the Gulf of Manfredonia and Gargano when the weather is nice.

View of the mountains and the small bridges at the foot of the mountains and the sea on the horizon
The Gargano and Manfredonia gulf seen from Pulsano.

 

There are also paths leding to hermitages carved in the rock by medieval hermits. So far 24 have been registered, some of them are located in truly inaccessible places.

Old ruins woith brick on the floor and a gap looking like a window.
One of the hermitages inside.

 

Some hermitages are connected by a network of paths and stairways. You can reach a small number of them on your heir own, but I believe the majority of hermitages you can do only with an experienced guide.

Remains of a medieval wall painting on ruins
The wall of one of the easilly accesibile hermitage.

How do you get to Pulsano?

From Monte Sant’Angelo you need to follow signs showing Pulsano in Gargano directions. The abbey is about 9 km far from Monte Sant’ Angelo. There is only one road leading to Pulsano, so you really have to wish to get lost. Many people go to Pulsnao on bikes, as the way is up, so they take advantage of it and train their skills. The traffic on the road is limited so bikers feel safe. Another option is to park your car 3-4 km from Pulsano and have a nice walking.

A gate with metal elements in an old wall and building behind it.
A gate to the buiding of the abbey.

 

Anyway, a road leads to Pulsano, there is no other option. The large metal gate is a sign that you achieved your destination. The gate is not automatic, so there is a red button to press, or when is broken, you have to open it on your own.
I’ve been to Pulsano twice or thrice. I went there by car and once I hiked on the old pilgrim trail. The track is rather difficult to find, it leads through private fields, forest with cows running around you, then through mountains. It was a good walk with nice panoramic views.

If you decide to visit the Abbey in the summer, remember about a few things.

Avoid the hottest time of the day. Take a hat and sun factor cream with you. There is no shadow, so also a few bottles of water will help you to deal with the heat. If you want to explore hermitages, wear comfy shoes, the best option are trekking ones and long trousers.

 

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