Nature is the first thing that strikes you, as you arrive in this land between two seas. Salento has its heart in the province of Lecce and extends to the provinces of Brindisi, on the Adriatic Sea, and Taranto on the Ionian sea. The cities and towns of its interior are extraordinary expressions of the unique Lecce Baroque style and of the traces of the Messapi and Grecìa Salentina, which preserves the ancient culture of Graecia Magna in its language, songs and feasts. Lovers of surfing, kite-surfing and windsurfing are to be found without fail on the long beaches facing the Alimini lakes, while scuba divers have a wealth of choice among the well equipped centers and charming sea beds of the Ionian coast, as well as those between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca.
Not to be missed
Famous for its historic centre with the typical dwellings called trulli, Alberobello is situated in the Valle d’Itria and in the Murgia dei Trulli. The trulli of Alberobello have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. Local farm workers built trulli using only stones. They have a self-supporting domed roof, composed of overlapping stone circles: a configuration that is simple and yet solid at the same time. The domed roofs are embellished with decorative pinnacles, which represent the distinguishing feature of the master trullaro who built or restored them. Decorations have symbolic, mystic, religious and profane elements. The biggest trullo, known as Trullo Sovrano, is 14 metres high and was built by the Perta family in the second half of the eighteenth century. It was the seat of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament from 1826 to 1837 and now it is a museum. In summer, the Trullo Sovrano hosts theatre performances, small ensembles or jazz concerts and other cultural events. Also very big is the seventeenth-century trullo Paparale, with two centrally joined domes and for this reason it is known as Trullo Siamese. Finally, Casa Pezzolla is worth visiting. It is the largest complex of contiguous and communicating trulli you can visit in Alberobello and it hosts a permanent museum exhibition divided in thematic and chronological areas to provide complete information about the territory.
Famous for its characteristic historic centre, Cisternino is a rare masterpiece of popular architecture. With its white-washed houses, Cisternino has an incomparable charm which recalls the East, thanks to its unplanned architecture made up of alleys, narrow streets, arches and small stairways, alternating with churches and mansions and houses leaning against each other, adorned with balconies and masks carved in stone. You mustn’t miss a visit to Garibaldi square, where you can admire the Villa comunale and the Torre Grande (Great Tower) with the Porta Grande (Great Door) and the Chiesa Madre (Mother Church). From here you can access the belvedere with a wonderful view over the Valle d’Itria, full of vineyards, olive groves, fruit trees, masserie and trulli. Time seems to stand still while walking through the ancient neighborhoods of the town where the aroma of the meat cooked on the stove outside the butchers’ shops invites you to rest and refresh.
Situated in the Salentino plain, 10 km from Brindisi and 40 from Lecce, Mesagne was an important Messapic town (from VI to III century B.C.) thanks to its strategic location, halfway between Oria and the port of Brindisi. During the Roman domination, it was one of the numerous towns on the Via Appia. Its development took place between 1500 and 1600 thanks to the rich feudal lords, nobles and clergy. Located on a hill, its historic centre is adorned by a castle, the ancient stronghold of Teutonic Knights, which was transformed into a residence by the Prince of Taranto, Giovanni Antonio Orsini Del Balzo, in the XV century. There are also many mansions characterised by windows rich with mouldings and friezes, rusticated portals, loggias, angular columns and openwork balustrades. The churches of this town are sumptuous and elegant, real treasures of the baroque, such as the Church of Santa Maria and the Palazzo Comunale, which stands next to it. But the seventeenth-century Church of Sant’Anna, with its majesty and the presence of statues which embellish its façade, stands out with its wonderful bell tower. In the seventeenth century the Chiesa Madre (Mother Church) was also built, situated where the Byzantine Church of San Nicola Vetere once stood. It is also worth visiting the city walls, of which Porta Grande (Great Door) remains, erected by the Orsini family, and the Messapic settlement of Muro Tenente, 5 km from the centre.
Ostuni has a population of around 33.000 and is located in the southern Murgia. Its old town, called la Terra (The Land) is unforgettable for its blinding monochrome colour of its houses, rigorously white. The white-washed houses and its peculiar topography, have endowed it with fabulous epithets, such as the White Town (Città Bianca), Queen of the olive trees (Regina degli Ulivi) and Nativity Scene City (Città Presepe). The old town – probably supported on the Messapian acropolis – was built on top of a hill and has an ellipsoidal plan, clearly shown by the town walls consolidated by the Aragonese towers. The old village is special jewel giving Ostuni its picturesque urban identity. All white in colour, it is located on the highest hill of the urban territory. There are a lot of levels, ups and downs, alleys and small stairs, tangled narrow streets which cross arches and small squares. At the top the monumental Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace stand out.
Lecce is the most Eastern provincial capital of Italy, located in the northern central part of the Salento peninsula, 11 km away from the Adriatic coast and 23 km away from the Ionian coast. The Baroque style, from an architectural point of view, characterises the town in a unique way, making it a real laboratory of work of limestone. It is a malleable carbonate rock, very suitable for working with a scalpel. Baroque architectures dominates the town which is rich also in noble mansions, marvelous signs of civil construction in the art nouveau style, evidences of the Messapian and pre-Christian eras and Roman remains from the imperial age.
Otranto (Hydruntum in Latin) is a town in the province of Lecce. Situated on the Adriatic coast of the Salentino peninsula, it is the most eastern town of Italy: the cape of Otranto, also called Punta Palascia, south of the town centre, is the most easterly point of the Italian mainland. First it was a Messapic and Roman town, then Byzantine and later Aragonese, it developed around the impressive castle and the Norman cathedral. Seat of an archbishop and an important tourist town, it gave its name to the Straits of Otranto, which separate Italy from Albania, and to Terra d’Otranto (Territory of Otranto), an ancient region of the kingdom of Naples. In 2010 the old town was recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, as a Peace Messenger Site. It belongs to the “borghi più belli d’Italia” club.
Gallipoli (Kallìpolis in Greek) is a town in the province of Lecce with a population of 20,969. Located on the west coast of the Salento peninsula, it is the fifth centre of the province in terms of population. Together with Nardò, it is the seat of the Nardò-Gallipoli Diocese. The town is on the Ionian sea and it is divided into two parts: the Borgo and the historic centre. The first is the new part of the town, while the historic centre was built on an island of limestone connected to the mainland via an arched bridge of the seventeenth century . The islet of Sant’Andrea is of considerable importance in terms of historical and natural interest. It is around one mile away from the old town and it is characterised by the presence of wild animals, such as the Corsican gull.
Santa Maria di Leuca
Santa Maria di Leuca (Lèviche in the salentino dialect) is a part of the administrative area of Castrignano del Capo, in the province of Lecce. A famous tourist destination, it is the southernmost point of the three extremities of Salento, with Taranto and Pilone. It is the southernmost town of the province: it is 83 km in distance from its province capital, if you take Strada statale 274 Salentina Meridionale which goes along the SS101, or 70 km taking Strada statale 275 from Santa Maria di Leuca continuing along the SS16. The legend tells that Santa Maria di Leuca (or maybe Porto Badisco) was the first landing of Enea. Later, Saint Peter the Apostle, coming from Palestine, would arrive and begin his work of evangelisation on his way to Rome, where he founded the Church. It was then that Leuca took its name of Santa Maria di Leuca. The passage of Saint Peter was also celebrated in 1694 with the Corinthian column erected in the square of the Basilica, recently renovated.
Modern, safe and well structured,
it rises in a particular loop
attractive of the great port of Brindisi,
very well protected by the peninsula
of the 15th century Forte a Mare.