Salento, the southernmost area of Apulia, is a peninsula between two seas, the Adriatic and the Ionian: it is a land of a thousand facets, where you can enjoy the beautiful sea and the magnificent natural coves, enjoying a DOC wine of the area, and then lose yourself in the narrow streets of the pretty villages.
Cave of Poetry, Melendugno
Along the Adriatic side of the Salento coast you will find the “Poesia”: a spectacle that leaves you in awe with the intense blue of the sea breaking into the karstic rocks of the quarry. It is a cave called, in fact, Grotta della Poesia (Cave of Poetry) and indicated as one of the most beautiful natural pools in the world by National Geographic.
It is told of a beautiful princess who went swimming in the blue waters of the cave. Her beauty led many poets from all over the world to take inspiration for their verses in the cave.
Presicce “City of Hypogea”
Presicce is a small town in the province of Lecce, famous for hosting numerous underground oil mills, used for centuries in the production of local oil.
Those who worked here lived underground for six months of the year, without natural light. The constant humidity and temperature made it possible to work even in winter.
Presicce is included in the prestigious list of the most beautiful villages in Italy, thanks to the beauty of the historical centre:
The Parish Church of St. Andrew the Apostle, built between 1776 and 1781, has a baroque style façade with a bell tower, in Renaissance style, which was part of the previous building.
Adjacent to the church, of which it is an integral part, is the “Church of the Dead”, so called because of the mouths of the underground tombs it contains, now closed and no longer visible.
Alberobello, “the Capital of Trulli”.
It is a village in Apulia located near the hills of the Murgia and the Itria Valley. Its historical centre has about 2000 trulli, the characteristic stone houses that make the town famous and that in 1996 were declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In ancient times the area of Alberobello was submerged by a thick vegetation: the name derives in fact from the Latin Sylva Arboris Belli, which means “forest of the tree of war”.
Alberobello is the only inhabited centre where there is a district composed entirely of trulli. Built with dry limestone, without mortar or other means of support, they inevitably stand out thanks to their walls whitewashed with lime milk and the roofs with their characteristic conical shape.
Each trullo has different sizes and shapes: very often they are unique constructions, some of which are two-storey: the classic trullo, however, has a cone-shaped roof, with the so-called pinnacle at the top, and a grey roof. The symbols depicted on the outside, on the roof, differentiate one trullo from another and can have different meanings, propitiatory or linked to Christianity.
The type of stone used for the construction guarantees a comfortable environment in winter and cool in summer, inside of which all the necessary furnishing accessories can be inserted.
The oldest trulli in Alberobello date back to the 14th century.
The district of Rione Monti is composed of 1030 trulli. These are lined along the edges of eight irregular little streets that proceed towards the top of the hill, on top of which stands the church of Sant’Antonio da Padova, also in the shape of a trullo. Here there are trulli of every kind, the most known however are the Siamese Trulli, united on the top but with entrances opening on two different roads. Once connected by an external door, it is said that they were separated following a feud between two brothers, in love with the same girl. Many of the trulli in this area host small shops and artisan workshops where you can do some shopping.
To admire the Monti district from above and enjoy a spectacular view, just go to Alberobello centre, in Piazza Gian Girolamo D’Acquaviva D’Aragona, where you will find the Belvedere or Terrazza di Santa Lucia roof terrace, made public to visitors in the 1990s.
Rione Aia Piccola is an area that includes 400 trulli, almost all inhabited. A perfect place to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the old medieval village since, compared to other areas of the city, it is the only one that is not invaded by commercial activities. In this area stands the Trullo Sovrano, a two-storey trullo with an enormous façade. Today it is a house-museum with an entrance fee that you can visit to admire the furnished rooms and the Mediterranean garden.
Ostuni, the “White City”
The nickname derives from the typical colour of the houses in the ancient Terra district, the ancient fortified village of the city.
Actually the reason why the white colour has been chosen is not as poetic as observing this little pearl of Salento from afar. In fact, in the past the city of Ostuni has been hit several times by the plague and covering the walls with lime allowed to sanitize the area and make it aseptic.
A walk through the narrow streets of the strictly white houses of the historical centre, in fact, will allow you to immerse yourself in a world made up of narrow alleys, paved streets framed by a wonderful view for a fairytale environment.
The houses climb the steep sides of a hill and the village is characterized by winding streets, small squares, alleys and courtyards. The lower part of the village is surrounded by the ancient city walls in which the only two entrances to the city remain intact: Porta Nova and Porta San Demetrio.
On the top of the hill we find the 15th century Cathedral of Ostuni, with its beautiful façade in late Gothic style, the three portals surmounted by a rose, and the rose window on the central portal composed of 24 finely carved beams. The interior is in the shape of a Latin cross with three naves redone with eighteenth-century shapes, the baroque side altars are very interesting. Next to the Cathedral, one in front of the other, there are also two beautiful 18th century palaces: the Bishop’s Palace and the Seminary, connected by a stone bridge called “la Loggia”.
Along Via Cattedrale, near the baroque church of Santa Maria Maddalena, there is the Carmelite Monastery where the Museum of Preclassical Civilizations of the Southern Murgia is located. It preserves the cast of Delia, a pregnant woman who lived 25,000 years ago and was found in a cave near Ostuni in 1991, as well as evidence of female cults and divinities from the Palaeolithic to the Christian age.
Gallipoli, the “Pearl of the Ionian Sea”
It stretches out over the Ionian Sea and is divided into two parts: the village and the historical centre.
Gallipoli is a very vital city from the tourist point of view thanks to its enchanting landscape, its architectural and cultural richness, and the numerous entertainment centres that have turned it into one of the favourite destinations among young people.
The Castle of Gallipoli is surrounded by the sea and is located at the mouth of the seventeenth-century bridge that connects the old town to the mainland. Its position was strategic to protect the access to the city. Dating back to the 13th century, it was built during the Angevin dominion and later underwent modifications and renovations until the 17th century.
Today the castle has a square base with one tower per corner, while a fifth circular tower, the “Rivellino“, is in an advanced position with respect to the city walls to perform the function of avant-garde defence. Access to the Rivellino is allowed by a wooden drawbridge which is still present today. Inside the castle we can find large rooms with barrel and cross vaults, then there are also many corridors and various walkways. It is currently used, during the summer period, as a cinema.
Near the bridge next to the castle there is a greek-roman fountain which for a long time was considered the oldest fountain in Italy, as it was dated to the 3rd century B.C.; however, more detailed studies have placed its creation in the Renaissance period.
In Gallipoli centre there are even 20 consecrated churches and 8 others suppressed by bishop’s decree: almost a record. Among these, the beautiful Cathedral of St. Agatha, an extraordinary masterpiece of baroque plan, and the characteristic church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, in which there is a wooden statue representing one of the crucified thieves next to the Saviour. It is the statue of Malladrone, also known and sung by the great Gabriele D’Annunzio who called it a work of “horrible beauty” for its mocking and disturbing grin.
Inside it are kept the relics of some saints, among which those of San Fausto.
Of considerable historical-naturalistic importance is the Island of Sant’Andrea, about a mile off the historic centre, characterised by the presence of wild animals, such as the Corsican seagull.
The beautiful beaches of Gallipoli are real natural masterpieces and every year end up at the top of the Legambiente rankings. La Purita, Baia Verde, Punta della Suina are sandy bays surrounded by a suggestive Mediterranean maquis that resemble the tropical beaches admired only in documentaries. The surrounding area is also rich in beautiful places such as Lido di San Giovanni, Punta Pizzo, Lido delle Conchiglie or Rivabella, where you can enjoy a few hours of light-heartedness in contact with a truly uncontaminated nature and sea.
Saint Mary of Leuca
The name “Leuca” was given by the ancient Greek sailors, because they saw this place illuminated by the sun and therefore leukos, which means white.
The name “Santa Maria”, according to the tradition, was wanted no less than by St. Peter himself, who landed here to begin his work of evangelization, changing also the name of the town and dedicating it to the Virgin: as a result of this episode the first sanctuary was built in place of a pagan temple.
The name with which it is also often associated, “De finibus terrae“, comes from the Romans.
It lies on a stretch of coast alternating with cliffs and small sandy coves. The numerous caves are of great historical and naturalistic interest and the seabed is a real paradise for underwater tourism. The ravines of the coast can almost all be reached by boat and the artefacts found have testified to human presence since the Palaeolithic.
The coast, on both coasts, has numerous karst inlets that further enrich the suggestive landscape. All the caves differ in depth and conformation: some of them are so particular that they have been named by the locals with as many symbolic names. This is the case of the Grotta del Diavolo (Devil’s Cave), so called not only because of the ancient popular legends, which attributed to the presence of Devils the rumbles that could be heard inside the cave, but also because of the presence of a huge rock, inside it, which resembles the head of a dragon.
Other caves worthy of note are La Grotta del Soffio, one of the most beautiful: inside you can admire the crystal clear water and be enchanted by the bright shades of colour of the same rock, which change according to the incidence of sunlight. The Grotta delle Tre Porte is, instead, characteristic because it has three natural arches that can be crossed by swimming or by boat.
Among the other caves, La Grotta del Lago is one of the few that can be reached with a short walk on the rocks. Crossed by fresh water currents that create incredible plays of colour, you will be amazed also by the continuous change of water temperatures that, depending on the currents, varies from cold to warm.
The Costa di Levante also has numerous suggestive caves: the Grotta delle Cazzafre, the Grotta del Pozzo, Lu Vangare, Le Mannute, Montelungo, Grotta del Brigante, and many others, ending with the Ciolo inlet, which owes its name to the dialectal term “giolo”, a type of bird that still lives here today, although it was once much more present.
One of the wonders of Leuca is undoubtedly the Sanctuary of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae, which dates back to 1700. The church has a single nave and a Latin cross with the high altar where the image of the Virgin is placed. There are also six other altars dedicated to S. Francesco di Paola, S. Giovanni Labre, the Holy Family, the Annunziata, S. Pietro and S. Givanni Nepomuceno. At the end of the nave there is a stone pulpit with a panel where the coat of arms of Bishop Giannelli and the representation of a scene of the collapse of the temple while St. Peter appeared.
The Sanctuary, even if it is the current basic version of the eighteenth century, has been destroyed several times before by the Turks in the previous centuries and according to tradition the original version was so ancient that it was consecrated for the first time by Peter himself.
In front of the sanctuary, a high column with a Corinthian capital and a stone cross on top, recalls the jubilee pilgrimage of 1900 and the passage of St. Peter.
The view from the square in front of the Basilica is of unprecedented beauty. From there, in some particular climatic conditions, you can see a chromatically distinguishable line that, according to popular belief, would mark the division between the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea.
The Monumental Waterfall connects the basilica to the old port. This waterfall was built at the behest of Mussolini and consists of two flights of stairs, each consisting of 296 steps, at the end of which stands the Roman column. They are separated by an artificial waterfall, open only on rare occasions.
The monumental Waterfall of the Aqueduct is 120 metres long and carries a thousand litres per second towards the sea. It has been exceptionally activated several times in the last sixty years.