Foggia is presently an Italian city with a population of 151,567. It is the chief town of its province in the Italian region of Apulia.
Historical facts about the city
The territory of Foggia belonged to a bigger agricultural Neolithic village. Then, since the 7th century B.C., a big settlement named Arpi was located in the present area of Arpinova, not far from the current city outskirts.
Arpi was one of the most famous and biggest Italian cities with thousands of soldiers. A rich and strong area thanks to its geographical position. Arpi had intense commerce with the nearby and surrounding cities. The inhabitants of the area were farmers and worked in agriculture, which was fostered by the fertility of “Tavoliere”, being that a completely flat land in conformation. Nevertheless, the area was marshy and affected by malaria, but only under the Norman domination, during the 11th-12th century, it was possible to see some changes in the territory: only few relics of Arpi were found and Robert Guiscard made a reclamation of a large marshy area, giving the urban area an economic and civil impulse that grew more and more during the reign of Guglielmo il Buono (William the Good).
The 12th century was a very important period for the history of the city: Frederick II built a notable Palatium that became one of his favourite residences. The Palatium was built by the protomagister Bartolomeo of Foggia. The residence featured some gardens with fountains, sculptures and wide halls covered by marble. In this building Frederick II set up a studium where Michele Scoto also taught, giving a very important role to the city and the territory. What is left is only the arch of the entry portal and its inscription. The inscription states: ‘Frederick Caesar has ordered to make the city of Foggia a royal and imperial seat’.
In the middle of 15th century, the house of Aragon, which ruled Apulia, decided to establish “sheep customs” and collect taxes coming from the duties of passage. The imposition of this tax to all the shepherds determined a great increase in the royal bank but impoverished the farmers of the Tavoliere: this situation forced them to leave the territory which gradually became marshy. At the beginning, the Customs had its seat in the Ancient Customs House (15th century) near the Cathedral. In the 17th century, it moved to a new Customs House where it remained until the French abolished it. This took place at the beginning of the 18th century. On March 20, 1731, a terrible earthquake hit the city and destroyed one third of the buildings, damaging the artistic heritage of Foggia. The reconstruction started few months later and regarded above all the old town and the interior part of the residential area. The lower class occupied the free spaces left with long rows of huts.
In the 19th century Foggia became the capital of the province, started to expand near the rail station and was enriched by important public monuments. From the political point of view, the city was really active and lively: it took part in the revolts of 1848 and 1860. Thanks also to the Unification of our country in 1861, but above all with the abolition of customs four years later, the city gave new strength to the local agriculture.
In the first part of 20th century, there was a great expansion of public buildings, with the construction of the Education Building, the Office of the Prefect, the Capitanata Land-Reclamation Syndicate, which was strongly wanted by Benito Mussolini, and the Town Hall. During the Second World War, the city was bombed by the allied aviation forces that razed the city to the ground, destroying a secret gas factory located near the current paper factory. The most remembered and violent air raids were on July 22 and August 19, 1943 with more than 20.000 casualties, one third of the population of that time. Those air raids were planned accordingly, considering the strategic position of Foggia’s rail station: it was, and it still is today, the second Italian railway junction in importance. On October 1, 1943, after the Anglo-American occupation, Foggia became the stronghold of the allied offensive in the Adriatic Sea and the Balkans.
The city has been reconstructed over the ruins of the old town centre and urban 19th century structure. Since then, the city of Foggia increased its economic role and urban-demographic growth.
THE ORIGINS OF THE NAME AND THE CITY
In the most common opinion, the name Foggia derives from the Latin word fovea that is to say ‘ditch’. It doesn’t refer only to the grain pits, as it is generally thought, but to a rainwater basin, as attested in the Iconavetere legend and recalled by the city’s Coat of Arms and as well by the European Fencing Championships logo, which portrays three flames around the profile of a swordsman.
The population of Dauni, led by their king Dauno, were the first to live in the territory bordered by the river Ofanto to the south and the river Fortore to the north. According to the legend, at the end of the war of Troy, Diomede prince of Argo, docked at the garganic coast asking the Dauno King for help in fighting the war against the neighbouring countries. Before reaching the garganic coasts, Diomede settled with its people in the Tremiti Islands, now also called Diomedee Islands. The city of Arpi, placed in the centre of an area inhabited by Dauni, was founded by Diomede and its first name was Argos Hippium, in honour of the city of Peloponnese that was the birthplace of the founder.
Arpi was a very populated city, rich and strong for its geographical position which allowed agricultural prosperity and strenuous commerce with the nearby cities. At the beginning of the 5th century A.D., Arpi started its decline and was ruined and sacked by the conquerors who appeared on the scenery after the fall of the Roman Western Empire: the damage suffered in the war between Odoacre and Teodorico is well known as is the destruction carried by King Totila of Ostrogoths ( 545-549), and the sacking by Costante II in 662 A.D.
In the 8th century A.D., Arpi was invaded by the Longobards and Saracens and ruined by the Normans who put up a fight against the Byzantines around the 11th century. Just in this historical moment, the inhabitants started to move towards the surrounding mountains in search of safer and more peaceful places.
By 1062, Arpi no longer existed, only the few farmhouses around the countryside near the Owl Tavern, the current Saint Thomas the Apostle Church, stood. The area was rich in oak trees, small lakes and ponds, made by the winter rains. In one of these wonderful swamps, an extraordinary event happened and determined the birth of a new community.
One day, amazing news spread out: some shepherds had noticed three flames on the lake and a table wrapped in canvas: as a consequence of this event, an ox bent over and kneeled toward the table. The shepherds became curious and removed the canvas from the table, discovering an ancient icon (Iconavetere) that revealed, despite the water and mud, the imagine of the Virgin Mary with her child Jesus. So, the shepherds wrapped the table with a new canvas and went to the Owl Tavern to find a safe place for the Holy discovery. Shortly afterwards, the dwelling of the Holy Table became the religious site of the area where many houses were built : people came from all over the world to venerate what the local farmers called Saint Mary De Focis (in memory of the Virgin Mary and the three flames). It is believed that the imagine could have been drawn by Saint Luke and carried to Arpi by the Bishop of Siponto, Lorenzo Maiorano.
Later in 600 A.D., legend has it that the Holy table was wrapped in drapes by a thoughtful and caring farmer and hidden in the same place of the miraculous recovery. Saint Mary de Focis, later becoming de Focia, probably gave the name ‘Foggia’ to that settlement around the Owl Tavern.