Deriving from the Latin claustrum (enclosed space), “gnostre” in the local dialect, the cloisters are an element of uniqueness due to their history and architectural originality. They represent the symbiosis of various ethnicities in Altamura called by Emperor Frederick II of Swabia in 1232 with the intent to repopulate the city, granting tax exemptions to: Greek, Latin, Jewish, Arab. They are, therefore, an architectural testimony and tangible evidence of peaceful coexistence of different religious communities. The cloisters are presented as small squares, more or less wide, enclosed by houses that overlook on them and they open up onto the main streets of the historic center: you have access to their courty ard from a narrow alley. The courtyard is slightly inclined inward for the collection of rain water – in fact, inside them, there are tanks from which the various families could, in the past, draw water. They are characterized by the presence of some special architectural elements, although with some variations: stairs, arches, balconies, lodges, balconies, windows, small terraces, stone rings, “rock seats”, and they are enriched with ornamental elements carved into the tuff: grotesque masks, coats of arms, votive figures. The function of these special spaces of the Altamura urban fabric was mainly intended to help the aggregation of various families, but they also served as a defensive purpose, that’s why the “claustri” have only one entrance. There are more than 80 claustri in which the ancient center of the city is divided, some of which are particularly noteworthy.
The Claustro of Giudecca, located on Via S. Lucia, which derives from Judah, one of Jacob’s sons who settled in the country of Judea, is the most unique in planimetric layout, consisting of a branched Square: seen from above, in fact, it reminds the Jewish Menorah (chandelier with three arms, corresponding to three small blind alleys that depart from the central square). The name reminds that this cloister was inhabited by the Jewish community, one of the most numerous and lively ethnic groups in Apulia region since the ninth century mainly dedicated to trade; at the entrance of the cloister, right at the top, a small caryatid called Synagogue, placed there as to protect the inhabitants of the cloister, welcomes those who enter.
Among others, worthy of a visit are: Claustro Tradimento, situated on Via G. Falconi, of average size, whose name refers to the legend of the alleged “betrayal” of some of Altamura people that would have let the city capitulate in 1799, so allowing it to return again under the Bourbon monarchy. It is characterized by low relief sculptures placed on the walls of a dwelling (apotropaic grotesque masks, flowers and shells).
The Claustro Tricarico, on Via S. Lucia, which takes its name from the owner of the building located inside it, professor of medicine at the University of Altamura (mid-eighteenth century), presents in the courtyard, in addition to the water spring well, the remains of an ancient mill, used for the working of cereals;
The Claustro dei Mori, situated on via G. Santini, dedicated to the ethnic group of the Moors or Saracens, who lived there until the arrival of the Longobards and Normans, is located below the ground level: it is accessed, in fact, going down a flight of steps.
The Claustro Altieri, on Via M. Continisio, dedicated to the local sculptor Giuseppe Nicola Altieri (late sixteenth century), a fine expert in woodworking, is also remembered with the name of “puppets”, clearly referring to the existence of artisan workshopsonsite.
The Claustro fratelli Salvatore, on Via Laudati, has in the middle an ancient cistern rainwater in common use, is decorated with arches and a beautiful statue of the Madonna with child, placed in a shrine.
The Claustro Antodaro, on Via Santa Chiara, on the ground floor has a small porch delimited by a column with Romanesque capital. On a second-story window you can see a Latin inscription and on the right wall stands out a bas-relief of a large mask. It was inhabited mostly by priests and is handed on that it was a shelter for the elderly.