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Bari is the capital city of the province of Bari and of the Apulia region, on the Adriatic Sea, in Italy. It is the second most important economic centre of mainland Southern Italy after Naples, and is well known as a port and university city, as well as the city of Saint Nicholas.
Bari is made up of four different urban sections. To the north is the closely built old town on the peninsula between two modern harbours, with the splendid Basilica of Saint Nicholas, the Cathedral of San Sabino (1035–1171) and the Swabian Castle built for Frederick II, which is now also a major nightlife district. To the south is the Murat quarter, the modern heart of the city, which is laid out on a rectangular grid-plan with a promenade on the sea and the major shopping district - the via Sparano and via Argiro.
Modern residential zones surround the centre of Bari, the result of chaotic development during the 1960s and 1970s replacing the old suburbs that had developed along roads splaying outwards from gates in the city walls. In addition, the outer suburbs have developed rapidly during the 1990s. The city has a redeveloped airport named after Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła Airport, with connections to several European cities.
The eastern seafront skyline of Bari had, until spring 2006, been dominated by the monsterous apartment complex known as Punta Perotti - a creation of the Matarrese construction empire. Clearly in violation of several fundamental Italian building regulations, Punta Perotti became the focus of a political and environmental movement calling for its demolition. After years of legal wrangling between the Matarrese firm, Bari Council and environmental groups such as Save the Earth, the court ruled in favour of its demolition and thousands gathered on the Bari seafront in April 2006 to see the event.
The grid-shaped Murat city Centre of Bari is said to be the largest shopping centre in all of Italy and contains a large number of high street stores and smaller shops with particular attention to high fashion and tailoring. Bari has recently seen a proliferation of out of town hypermarkets with all manner of shops and superstores attached to them.
Through a tragic coincidence intended by neither of the opposing sides in World War II, Bari gained the unwelcome distinction of being the only European city to experience chemical warfare in the course of that war.
On the night of December 2, 1943, German Junkers Ju 88 bombers attacked the port of Bari, which was a key supply centre for Allied forces fighting their way up the Italian Peninsula. Several Allied ships were sunk in the overcrowded harbour, including the U.S. Liberty ship John Harvey, which was carrying mustard gas; mustard gas was also reported to have been stacked on the quayside awaiting transport. The chemical agent was intended for use if German forces initiated chemical warfare. The presence of the gas was highly classified, and authorities ashore had no knowledge of it. This increased the number of fatalities, since physicians—who had no idea that they were dealing with the effects of mustard gas—prescribed treatment proper for those suffering from exposure and immersion, which proved fatal in many cases. Because rescuers were unaware they were dealing with gas casualties, many additional casualties were caused among the rescuers through contact with the contaminated skin and clothing of those more directly exposed to the gas. On the orders of allied leaders Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower, records were destroyed and the whole affair was kept secret for many years after the war. The U.S. records of the attack were declassified in 1959, but the episode remained obscure until 1967. Indeed, even today, many "Baresi" are still unaware of what happened and why. Additionally, there is considerable dispute as to the number of fatalities. In one account: "Sixty-nine deaths were attributed in whole or in part to the mustard gas, most of them American merchant seamen;" - Others put the count as high as, "more than one thousand Allied servicemen and more than one thousand Italian civilians." Part of the confusion and controversy derives from the fact that the German attack, which became nicknamed "The Little Pearl Harbor" after the Japanese air attack on the American naval base in Hawaii, was highly destructive and lethal in itself, apart from the effects of the gas. Attribution of the causes of death to the gas, as distinct from the direct effects of the German attack, has proved far from easy.
The affair is the subject of two books: Disaster at Bari , by Glenn B. Infield, and Nightmare in Bari: The World War II Liberty Ship Poison Gas Disaster and Coverup, by Gerald Reminick. The Balkan Air Force supporting the partisans in Yugoslavia was based at Bari.
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