There are various hypothesis’s regarding the founding of Nardo, each having some archaeological support. One is that it was settled by Cretan migrants approx 3,000 BC, another suggests Egyptians were the original settlers. However, it remains irrefutable that by 1,000 years before Christ, it was a thriving Messapian community, later passing to Greek influence under the control of powerful colony of Taranto.
The location for the founding of the town was reputedly chosen when the settlers, spotted a huge bull pawing at the ground in the dry landscape, after the bull departed – water was discovered rising from a spring that the bull had uncovered in the dusty earth. It was then decided to settle there, where a supply of water was now ensured. Today, the Fountain of the Bull in the central Piazza marks the site of the original spring, and the Bull became the emblem of the Nardo and thus was incorporated into the town’s Municipal Crest.
Aligning with the Greek states against Roman expansion, it finally fell under Roman control in 269BC and was devastated by them in 88BC as a punishment, after fighting for 2 years on the losing side in the Italo-Roman wars. Only re-gaining its earlier importance in the Imperial era, particularly under the Emperors Trajan and Adrian it once more suffered sack, pillage and devastation on the fall of the Western Empire, and control was wrested from the Lombard’s by the Byzantines.
Like most cities and settlements of Southern Puglia, it participated in the customary merry-go-round of ownership by Saracen, Norman, Swabian, Saracen (again) Papal, Aragonese, Venetian overlords along with numerous other Kings, Princes, Sultans and usurpers who first fought for supremacy, only to later lose it again as sovereignty of the town passed to the next aggressor.
During its erratic development, always seemed to choose the losing side in clashes between rival powers. For its support of Manfred the Holy Roman Emperor, it was ravaged by forces who remained loyal to the Pope in 1255 AD, and once more, Nardo’s economy and infrastructure was shattered in 1647 when it once again made an unfortunate selection in the rebellion against feudal domination. Reviving once more,
Despite its unlucky choices, Nardo developed into an important centre and was the seat of the areas Carbonari League (an organisation similar to a miniature Hanseatic League) and remained a Bishopric for most of the Renaissance. Severely damaged in a strong earthquake in 1743, much of Nardo was badly damaged and many buildings collapsed. The renewal of the town was undertaken in the ornate Baroque Leccesse style, and has resulted in its notoriety today for the many beautiful buildings from this period that grace the town.
Most notable sights worth visiting in Nardo include, the Central Piazza which contains the famous Fountain of the Bull, as well as both the Palazzo Salandra of the Pretura and the San Domenica Church dating from the 1500’s. Just a short distance away is the beautiful Gothic-Romanesque Cathedral with an interior dating from the 11th century but which received a Baroque facade after the earthquake.
The Aragonese Castle of Nardo constructed by the 15th century Acquaviva family, is big, imposing and impressive, today its extensive walled and gated compound houses the Town Hall and Municpal infrastructure of the Comune which includes the jurisdiction of the three seaside villages of Santa Maria di Bagno, Santa Caterina and Santa Isodoro. The coastline for which Nardo has won various environmental awards, includes many fortified lookout towers dating from Medieval and later times, as well as incorporating areas of the stunning Portaselvaggio National Park
Today the famous “Nardo Ring” testing track is located nearby. This test track, the first of its kind in Europe, is 4kms across and has a perfectly circular circumference of 12.5 kms, The track is used for speed testing, with four lanes for cars and motorbikes and an inner ring for trucks and lorries.
Each lane is so perfectly banked and cambered that the vehicle is driven “straight”. Up to the lanes maximum speed, the driver holds the vehicles steering wheel straight ahead in a neutral position, and the camber of the road ensures that the vehicle stays exactly in the centre of its respective lane. Eradicating the need to turn the wheel, the Nardo Ring can be used to determine the maximum speed and/or distance endurance of a particular vehicle car in a simulated straight line test without the need for an impossibly long, impractical and unaffordable straight line test road.