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Introducing Lucera

Gruff, off-the-beaten-track Lucera has one of Puglia’s most impressive castles and an attractive old town centre, where chic shops sit alongside the flat-capped population.

Founded by the Romans in the 4th century BC, it was abandoned by the 13th century. Following excommunication by Pope Gregory IX, Frederick II decided to bolster his support base in Puglia by importing 20,000 Sicilian Arabs, simultaneously diminishing the headache Arab bandits were causing him in Sicily.

It was an extraordinary move by the Christian monarch, even more so because Frederick allowed Lucera’s new Muslim inhabitants the freedom to build mosques and practise their religion freely a mere 290km from Rome. Frederick picked his famous Saracen bodyguard from its inhabitants.

History, however, was less kind; when the town was taken by the rabidly Christian Angevins in 1269, every Muslim who failed to convert was slaughtered.

Lucera’s tourist office (0881 52 27 62; www.luceraweb.net; 9am-2pm & 3-8pm Tue-Sun, 9am-2pm Oct-Mar) is near the cathedral.