Fraula and the Salento
Gallipoli, which is also known as “The Pearl of the Ionian Sea”, is situated on the east coast of the Salento, facing the Ionian Sea. It is neatly divided into two parts which are connected by a bridge: the new town is located on a promontory, while the old town stands on a limestone island. Visitors are greeted by the Fontana Greca (Greek fountain) from the Renaissance period and nearby there are the Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Canneto, the little Chapel of Santa Cristina and the Castello Aragonese, one of the extremely rare examples of manor houses surrounded by the sea. Crossing the 17th century bridge, you can look down on the fish market, which is held in the original castle moat. A small flight of steps leads to the old town, encircled by powerful city walls where you can sit on the ramparts and enjoy the breathtaking view and the excellent aperitifs and delicious dishes typical of Gallipoli. Along the city walls, there are many churches which are all worth a visit for their beautiful facades and interior decorations. Among the natural beauties of the area, one of the most noteworthy is the wonderful Island of Sant’Andrea, which today is a Regional Nature Park, where a tall lighthouse stands which was built in 1866 and is still working. In the little alleyways and winding streets, there are baroque facades, noble houses and courtyards to be admired. During the summer period, the town is a popular tourist resort for visitors from all over, who are attracted by the crystal-clear water, the nature, the art, the cuisine and the numerous clubs, discos and pubs to be found in the area.
Provincial capital and cultural centre of the Salento peninsula, Lecce is 11 kilometres from the Adriatic and 23 kilometres from the Ionian seas. Its main industries are agriculture (wine and olive oil), ceramics and papier maché. Lecce boasts of a very important artistic and historical heritage and is also archeologically of great importance. There are traces of the different populations which followed one after the other in the region ranging from the underwater walls of the Messapian city to the great Romans works such as the Theatre and the Amphitheatre in Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Renowned throughout the world as a centre of baroque art, Lecce enjoys an unrivalled characteristic appearance which has earned it the name of “Florence of the South”. All over the town, the Lecce stone is apparent, a type of limestone typical in this region, and famous for its suitability for carvings. Many of the buildings and churches are decorated with friezes, capitals, spires and rose windows in this stone. The old town, which is small and sunlit, is rendered even more charming by the Palazzo dei Celestini, the Santa Croce church, the Santa Chiara church and the cathedral. The city is also a kind of cultural workshop with its many museums and art galleries, and it also hosts a remarkable season of opera and theatre at the Paisiello and Politeama Greco theatres, both of which are also architectural gems. Lecce has a university and offers it students vibrant city life in the various venues which bring the attractive old town to life at night.
Situated at the southern end of the Adriatic Sea and at the easternmost point of Italy, the town of Otranto, which is also called the “Door to the Orient”, faces out towards the straits which take their name from the town. Otranto has a long history and owes its name to the nearby river Idro, from where it took its ancient appellation Hidruntum. Otranto’s strategic position at the crossroads between east and west has been an attraction for many invaders: it was first a Byzantine centre, then Aragon, (in fact the imposing castle is an unusual trapezoidal shape with cylindrical towers and was built for Ferdinando d’Aragona at the beginning of the 16th century. During the summer, the great courtyard is used as a venue for cultural and artistic events). In 1480, the saddest episode in the history of Otranto took place: the attack by the Turks who decapitated more than 800 of the local population (who nowadays are known as the “Martyrs of Otranto”), and whose skulls are preserved in the Built in Norman times, this great basilica is famous for its mosaic floor representing the tree of life, like a stone book full of allegorical references. A walk through the old town, down delightful little alleys, stopping at the shops, workshops and the many attractive inns, will normally lead you to the ramparts to give you an enchanting view over the harbour.
Santa Cesarea Terme
Located on a rocky cliff over the sea, Santa Cesarea Terme is today one of the best equipped and most competitive tourist spas in the south of Italy. Its sulphuric waters, rising from springs in natural caves which communicate with the sea, represent one of the most important natural sites in the field of therapeutic waters (www.termesantacesarea.it). Santa Cesarea Terme is not just clear waters and majestic pines, it also has an enchanting centre: the evocative 13th-century Madre del Sacro Cuore church is a must, along with the splendid 19th-century villas which were designed as summer residences for the nobility. The Moorish Palazzo Sticchi is a one-off in the Salento region. The attractiveness of the rocky cliffs with their rock stacks and prehistoric caves is intensified by the small beach at Porto Miggiano with its cliff tower of the same name and which dates back to the 16th century. Part of the area surrounding Santa Cesarea Terme is included in the Nature Park Costa di Otranto - Santa Maria di Leuca e del bosco di Tricase.
Santa Maria di Leuca
At the extreme south of Apulia, Santa Maria de Leuca has been a famous seafaring town since ancient times because it was the meeting place for Cretans, Phoenicians and Greeks between the eastern and western waters of the Mediterranean. The coming together of these cultures is evident in the numerous wonderful villas (more than forty of them) of the most varied styles. Every era left its own tangible traces: cave settlements, graves, grottos, crypts, churches, castles, grand villas. This is a beautiful little seaside town whose income is earned from tourism and fishing; this becomes apparent in the efficient tourist and fishing harbour. The town offers many different types of amusement and tourist services. The coastline is amongst the most beautiful and varied in Apulia, and is distinctive for its many natural caves some facing east, some facing west. From the Sanctuary of Santa Maria di Leuca or “de Finibus Terrae” (the ends of the earth), with its modern appearances, and which is the result of the many pirate invasions over the centuries, you can look down on the meeting between the Ionian and the Adriatic seas, the harbour and its points of interest, as well as the lighthouse (approx. 50 m tall), whose light can be seen 27 miles away. Santa Maria di Leuca, as much of the rest of the Salento coast, is included in the Regional Nature Park which was inaugurated in 2006.