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Bari is the second largest continental city of Southern Italy, with a population of 326,201 (2001) along 116 sq. km. Capital of Apulia (or Puglia) region, on the Adriatic Sea, its province is the fifth largest and most populated in Italy, with 1,551,331 inhabitants (2001) and more than 5,000 sq. km.
In the 1990s the population in the city saw a consistent decrease, according to the national trend, in favor of the towns in the first metropolitan ring. It was necessary to institute the Metropolitan Area: today the project is underway, with 12 towns who already opted to be in, for a total of around 600,000 inhabitants.
The town consists of three parts: the closely built old town on the peninsula to the north, with the splendid Basilica of San Nicola (Saint Nicholas), the Cathedral of San Sabino (1035 - 1171) and the Swabian castle, is now also one of the major nightlife districts; the Murattiano town to the south (with its stunning promenade on the sea), major shopping district (with the famous Via Sparano and Via Argiro) and hearth of the city, which is laid out on a rectangular plan; the newest chaotic city all around, fastly grown in the '60s - '70s.
The church of San Nicola (Saint Nicholas) was founded in 1087 to receive the relics of this saint, which were brought from Myra in Lycia, and now lie beneath the altar in the crypt. The church is one of the four Palatine churches of Apulia (the others being the cathedrals of Acquaviva and Altamura, and the church of Monte Sant' Angelo sul Gargano).
Barium -- the old Latin name for Bari -- does not seem to have been a place of great importance in early antiquity; only bronze coins struck by it have been found. In Roman times it was the point of junction between the coast road and the Via Traiana; there was also a branch road to Tarentum from Barium. Its harbour, mentioned as early as 181 BC, was probably the principal one of the district in ancient times, as at present, and was the centre of a fishery.
Bari's greatest importance dates from the time when it became, in 852, a seat of the Saracen power being Swadan the first emir, and in 885, the residence of the Byzantine governor. In 1071 it was captured by Robert Guiscard. In 1095 Peter the Hermit preached the first crusade there. In 1156 it was razed to the ground, and has several times suffered destruction.