Sun, sea, wind. Nature strikes in the first place, when one gets to this land stretch in balance between two seas. Salento has its core in the province of Lecce, — a Baroque Florence in Southern Italy – and reaches the provinces of Brindisi over the Adriatic Sea, and Taranto on the Ionian Sea side. The cities and inland towns expressions of the unique Lecce Baroque with Messapi and Salento Grecìa can still be seen. Its language, songs and feasts still show the culture of Graecia Magna. Surf, kite-surf and windsurf lovers never miss the beaches facing the Alimini lakes, while scuba diving fans just have to choose among the several equipped centers and charming sea beds of the Ionian coast as well as of the area between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca.
An important cultural centre in Salento, Ostuni is also known as the “white city” and is located eight kilometres from the Adriatic coast, in the southern Murgia. The first settlement dates back to the IV – III century B.C. and was established by the Messapi. Destroyed at the end of the Second Punic War, the town was rebuilt by the Romans under which Ostuni flourished. A long period of alternating domination followed the fall of the Roman Empire: the Ostrogoths, Longobards, Normans, Suevians, Angionians and Aragons followed one after another, but none managed to subject the town to feudal rule. After 1800 Ostuni extended its territory by joining the medieval town with its current territory.
Recent archaeological finds confirm human settlements around Ostuni from as early as the Palaeolithic period. In particular, much interest surrounds the well-preserved remains of a woman in labour lying in a large hollow and with a type of hat made out of very small shells.
The origins of this city, capital of its province, are very ancient and often mixed with legend: Sybar the MessApico town on which Lecce was built seems to be older than the Trojan war. After the advent of the Japigi and with the 3rd century BC Roman conquest, Lecce obtained the status of municipium, took the name of Lupiae and witnessed a period of splendour under the guidance of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. After a short Greek domination, it was sacked by the Ostrogoths and was annexed in 549 to the Eastern Roman Empire where it remained for 5 centuries.
It was under the Norman domination that Lecce became an important trading centre and assumed the role of capital of the Salento. In 1493 Lecce became part of the Kingdom of Naples and became the liveliest cultural centre of the Mediterranean giving life to its own architectural style, which later became known as Lecce Baroque.
In later centuries, to protect against possible Turkish invasions, under the reign of Charles V, walls and a castle were built around the city. Next churches and aristocratic dwelling were constructed turning the city into an open air construction site. In 1656 Lecce was hit with a plague epidemic which ended thanks to the miraculous intercession of St. Horace, who later became the patron saint of the city. The expansion of the city beyond its walls took place in the first years of the 1900’s.
The cultural, political and economic centre of the Salento for centuries, Otranto is located on the easternmost section of Italy’s coast, at around 30 km from Lecce, on a rocky point above the sea. This city has been considered a natural bridge between the Mediterranean and the Orient since ancient times and it still contains traces of the encounter among different cultures. The Aragonese Castle, the defensive walls, the entire appearance of a Medieval town which seems like a fortress, like a rampart sitting over the sea, tells the story of the permanent danger represented by the Turks which ended with the tragic 1480 siege and invasion. Here there are winding stone paved alleys, bright houses and gem of a Romanesque Cathedral, all overlooking a beautiful sea.
Gallipoli, in the province of Lecce, is located on the west coast of the Salento peninsula. It is divided into two parts: the Borgo, which is the new part of the city, and the Historic Centre built on an island of limestone and connected to the mainland via an arched bridge.
Gallipoli was once a Messapian centre called Anxa. It was subsequently occupied by the Romans and immediately became a highly important trading town in the sale of purple dyestuff, which was produced in the region.
For a long time Gallipoli remained loyal to its Greek culture by preserving its habits, rites and dialect: the Latin Rite, which had already been established in Salento from medieval times, only replaced the Greek Rite in the XVI century.
After the fall of the Roman empire, Gallipoli was sacked by the Barbarians, the Vandals and even the Goths, who were defeated and driven out by the Byzantines. The Byzantines were followed by the Suevians and Angionians, traces of whom are found in the restoration of the old Byzantine castle transformed into a fortress. The castle was further fortified by the Spanish during their occupation. The old part of present day Gallipoli, fortified by walls, towers and embankments, was subjected to numerous sieges. We recall the Venetian siege of 1484 and the French siege of 1528.
S. Maria di Leuca
A high and wild coastline characterises the Adriatic in the area of Castrignano del Capo, with splendid cliffs overlooking the sea, which ranges from crystal-clear green near the shore to deep blue further out; the Ionian coast is greener with beaches covered with Mediterranean scrub alternating with low rocky headlands. The two seas meet off the Cape of Santa Maria di Leuca, finis terrae as it was called in ancient times, the tip of Italy’s heel where Greece and Albania can be seen on a clear day. The coastline of the municipality is part of the Costa Otranto– Santa Maria di Leuca – Bosco di Trifase regional natural park, which is in the process of being established by the Region of Apulia. A visit to the Grottos of Santa Maria di Leuca is not to be missed, where Pleistocene fauna fossils and constructions from the upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic have been found. They can be easily reached by sea by local fishermen’s boats. These same grottos were a refuge for Byzantine monks, as seen from the numerous Greek and Latin inscriptions and crosses engraved in the rocks.(Source and pics Wikipedia)