Although it’s been almost eight years since I was there, several things really stand out for me about Castellaneta: its geography, the architecture, and the warm, openhearted nature of the people I encountered.
A town with approx 17K population, Castellaneta is situated on a rolling plain, maybe 35km from the port of Taranto, which is where the Guglielmi family moved to when Rudy was nine. What is unique about it, geographically, is that there are deep ravines that abut, great slashes in the earth. The old part, especially, perches on the side of a giant ravine, and is much higher than the surrounding land.
This was never a rich town like some others in Italy. Nevertheless, there are architectural gems, in particular the churches. Via Roma, the main street, has a lot of 19th century commercial buildings that line it, mostly two and three story, and it is there, at # 116 that Rudy was born, in a second floor flat. In the 1930’s, a Valentino fan club from Cincinnati had a bronze plaque put on the building to commemorate Rudy’s birth place. Farther down Via Roma, there is a monument to Rudy, built in 1961, a statue of him as The Sheik. The Fondazione Valentino, which supports Museo Valentino, is now seeking funds to restore it.
One of the fun facts about Castellaneta is that so many businesses use Valentino in their names. Bar Valentino, Teatro Valentino, Ristorante Valentino, etc. I stayed in Hotel Rudy, for example.
Museo Valentino is great. It’s located in a former convent, 18th century construction with concave ceilings. There are lots of documents, like his report card and birth certificate, a bed he once slept in, a fragment from the tent in “Son of the Sheik,” photos, videos, and much, much more.
All this and the locals are super nice! My experience was that they really went out of their way to be helpful.
Easy to get to Castellaneta by train; it’s on the main line, Bari to Taranto. The station is out in the countryside now, about 2 or 3 km from town. The old station is still there, however, on Via Roma, also the single track that led to the nearby RR bridge designed by Rudy’s engineer grandfather, Pierre Barbin.