Gargano, also known as the spur of the Italian boot, is a promontory (it’s actually called the Gargano Promontory) that extends into the eastern part of Puglia and is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea. It is part of the province of Foggia and is almost entirely occupied by the Gargano National Park
Tremiti Islands is an archipelago composed of five small islands and is located just 20 km from the Northern coast of Gargano. The five islands are: St. Nicholas (San Nicola), St. Domino, Capraia, Cretaccio and the farthest out, Pianosa; from an administrative point of view they belong to the Foggia Province and are also part of the Gargano National Park.
The archipelago was originally named Insulae Diomedae in honor of Greek hero Diomede, which as the story goes, founded the archipelago and was buried on one of the islands. Tremiti Islands are accessible by boat from Rodi Garganico, Peschici, Vieste, Manfredonia and by helicopter from Foggia. Most boats arrive at St. Domino and small boats regularly make the brief crossing to St. Nicola.
The archipelago is a jewel, literally a pearl in the Adriatic Sea, and makes for a splendid trip. The hour-long boat ride takes you to a world of raggedy cliffs, sandy coves and thick pine woods, surrounded by the cobalt-blue sea. Pretty deserted during winter months they become very crowded in summer when some 100,000 tourists descend on the archipelago. This is due mainly to its natural beauty, history, nature, sunshine and sparkling blue waters, all within a national marine park. The crystalline waters and the splendid backdrops recall many tourists, attracted by the possibility of diving and underwater fishing where permitted. This is a wonderful destination for a day trip, or even better a relaxing extended holiday.
St. Nicholas is the second largest inhabited island, it is also the heart of the archipelago. In fact it has always been the historical, religious and administrative center of the entire archipelago. Inhabited by monks since ancient times, it was a refuge for hermits and was also a penal colony. In the past it has also been used as the main defence against intruders, with its high walls and fortifications perched at the top of the island. From a historical point of view there are large tracks of the past, among these we recall the castle like cluster of medieval buildings which rises up from the rocks, churches and fortifications walls. The Santa Maria a Mare Abbey which was founded in 1045. It guards a wooden cross (the only Greek Byzantine found in Italy) and its floor is made of a huge mosaic dating from the eleventh century. Its rocky coastline is dotted with dramatic caves and beaches, some of which can be reached by steep paths and others only by boat.
St. Domino island is the largest and most beautiful from a scenic point of view. Its coastline is characterized by the presence of several caves: Bue Marino cave, Murene cave, Viole cave, Sale cave. Not to be missed is a boat trip to the Rondinelle and Coccodrillo caves. Entirely covered with the beautiful coastal pines, thanks to its breathtaking seabed, the waters clear, cliffs and beaches this island is the main tourist destination in the archipelago as it is the most equipped in terms of tourism facilities. It offers a port, heliport, and a large number of hotels, restaurants, holiday villages, camp-sites and diving centers.
Capraia is the second island in order of extension and is absolutely wild and uninhabited. This island is a favourite destination for scuba diving, among other excursions you can visit the wreck of the Roman ship Three Senghe dating back to the second century BC. The extraordinary clarity and color of its waters allow visitors to admire through the depths some of the most colorful sponges, annelids, curly fans and marine stars.
Pianosa is a deserted island and is barely more than an out-cropping of rocks but has extraordinary environmental importance and is one of the most protected under the Marine Reserve established in 1989 to preserve the exceptional variety of underwater plant life. Bathing, boating, and fishing are virtually impossible here. In addition to being abundant with sea-life, the waters around the island also gives up fragments of ceramics and Roman amphorae, resulting from the Roman ships that sailed its seas.
Cretaccio is simply a large rock and is uninhabited, according to legend it is populated by ghosts. As the legend goes, a prisoner was executed on this island, and his ghost still now lives there, holding his head in his hands. To enrich the”thrill” contributes to the nearby rock La Vecchia, a dark black, owned by an old witch.
Alberobello is situated on two hills; the new town is located on the eastern hill and is characterized by a modern architecture. The western part is occupied by the old town (trulli) and the whole area is divided into two districts: Monti and Aia Piccola, both National Monuments. Alberobello is without question one of the most characteristic towns in Italy and is famous for its traditionally built ancient stone houses called trulli, (which since 1996 have been named a UNESCO World Heritage site).
The origin of this type of construction is uncertain; many historians argue that its origins are linked to religious beliefs. Historically they made their first appearance in the 17th century when the Earls of Conversano (the Earls Acquaviva), at the time feudatories of the area, decided to extend their domain by building a new village. They would have to pay a tribute to the King of Naples (Aragonese family) in order to build new villages so they decided to build houses, that could be quickly destroyed in the case of royal inspection, by using only dry stones without the use of mortar.
Originally used by peasants, the trulli have in recent years become more and more one of the top major tourist attractions in Puglia, and is must see for all tourists visiting Southern Italy.
The architecture of trulli is very simple. They are built entirely of dry stones (which is characteristic of the area) using a simple technique: the main part of the trullo is built in a circular shape and is topped by a cupola roof, which allows for the room to remain cool in summer yet is easy to heat in the winter. The walls are always white washed with white lime. The internal conical structure is made up an inner layer of limestone boulders, capped by a keystone and an outer layer of limestone slabs ensuring that the structure is watertight. The roofs are also often decorated with religious or astrological symbols; sometimes they may represent signs of the zodiac, but may also include planetary symbols or a cross among others.
The biggest trullo in the town called Sovereign Trullo and was built in 18th century. The Sovereign Trullo is different from other trulli because the building has two floors and now also hosts a museum. During the summer months it also doubles up as a theater hosting many events such as plays, musical performances, culture evenings and poetry readings.
The landscape around Alberobello is charming and magical; it makes the town one of the most popular attractions in the region. Local handicrafts can be purchased around the old town, which include: local art, hand woven baskets, stone sculptures, ornaments made from local iron and handmade textiles. Alberobello has also a fantastic production of local wines and olive oils, and typical local dishes: the sweet almonds, and macaroons pasta among others.
Otranto is a town in the province of Lecce and is part the Salento area. It is located in a harbor along the east coast on the Adriatic Sea and is the easternmost town in Italy. Its small seaport is mostly used for fishing activity and tourism, especially for the ferry services to Greece. The city also gave its name to the Strait of Otranto, which separates Italy from Albania.
The old town of Otranto has been declared by UNESCO as “Heritage witness to a culture of peace”.
Otranto is strategically located along the coast and is therefore always been considered a natural bridge between East and West. Especially during the Roman Empire when the town became one of the most important maritime centers of Italy and the natural point of trade with Greece.
Today Otranto is a quiet town and a popular tourist destination. Its historical center has been included in the list of the most beautiful towns in Italy, from “I borghi piu’ belli d’Italia”, and the town attracts each year thousands of tourists especially during summer months. The town still retains its characteristic appearance of the ancient market towns that are washed by the Mediterranean. While walking around the town, the ancient walls and the Aragonese Castle can be admired. The castle is a massive building which is part of the tough defenses of Otranto. It was built in the 15th century on one of Frederick II’s earlier fortresses ruins. It is open to the public and sometimes houses temporary exhibitions.
Another masterpiece of Baroque architecture is the Cathedral of S. Maria Assunta, consecrated in 1088, it has a huge rose window. The interior, has columns said to come from a temple of Minerva and a fine mosaic pavement of 1166, it is one of the largest mosaics in the world and depicts the “tree of life” with interesting representations of the months and Old Testament subjects. The Cathedral has a crypt supported by 42 marble columns. It holds the bones of 800 martyrs (later proclaimed saints ) who were killed by the Turks in 1480 in an attempt to conquer the town. Bones are kept on massive shelves inside the cathedral.
Despite the different destruction suffered throughout the time, Otranto retains a very well defined old town, with the typical aspect of the southern Italian houses painted in bright colors which make it very picturesque. The old town is still enclosed within its defensive walls; the small streets are full of bars, restaurants and small souvenirs shops. On summer nights Otranto has a lovely holiday scene and usually street artists fill up the city center with their shows. Tourism is in constant expansion thanks to the beautiful beaches and landscape that this town can offer, and the warm hospitality of the locals.
San Giovanni Rotondo is a town in the province of Foggia and is also part of the Gargano National Park. Famous around the world as it houses the remains of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, a Capuchin friar who lived in the town. The city was founded in 1095 on the remains of an ancient village, which dated back to the 6th century BC, and is located on the road to the Monte Sant’Angelo (this village was founded around the cave where the Archangel Michael had appeared).
The city has a charming historical center with small alleys and few traces of ancient civilizations such as the Swabians, Angevins, Spaniards and Bourbons. But it is well known all around the world mainly for the Shrine of Padre Pio which is the second most visited Catholic Shrine in the world (second only to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in popularity). The Shrine consists of an ancient Church built in 1540 and a new one, Santa Maria delle Grazie (Our Lady of Grace). This was specifically requested by Padre Pio and was built during his lifetime to accommodate the many pilgrims and worshipers attracted to San Giovanni Rotondo. Today it remains the central focus of the sanctuary.
It is centered on his tomb, opened daily and free to visit it hosts his confessional, his cell which still contains his books, clothing and all his belongings and the crucifix from which he received the stigmata.
The Shrine also includes a modern Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) on the forested hillside above Santa Maria delle Grazie. The construction of the Via Crucis monumentale began in 1968 and was completed in 1981. It represents the drama of Jesus, it is made of granite and includes 17 bronze and marble sculptures.
Padre Pio also founded the Home for the Relief of Suffering (Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza), a hospital in the forefront of scientific research and considered one of the most efficient hospitals in Europe.
St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina was a Capuchin friar, priest and mystic known for his devotion to God, care for the sick, and supernatural gifts. His most famous spiritual gift was the stigmata, which he received first in 1918 while praying and then several times for rest of his life, which caused him great suffering. He is reported to have experienced a wide variety of supernatural abilities and miraculous events including: the reading of souls; bi-location (being in two places at once); the odor of sanctity; prophecy; living on very little sleep; miraculous healing personal visits from Jesus and Mary. He died in 1968 and was declared Blessed in 1999 and a Saint in 2002.
Padre Pio’s dream was to build a church, a huge church that had to be the house for all pilgrims. His last words were: Make it Big. Due to the huge number of pilgrims that every day arrive in San Giovanni Rotondo (over 7 million pilgrims each year visit the Shrine), in 2004 the new modern Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church was completed, it is the second largest Church in the world after the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It lays on the mountain beside the ancient Shrine, it can accommodate seven thousand people seated inside and over thirty thousands standing in the outside square. Designed and built by the world-renowned architect Renzo Piano it is a masterpiece of contemporary architecture.
Ostuni is a town in the province of Brindisi which has a population of about 32,000 people, but during the summer months this mushrooms to a massive 100,000 proving that Ostuni is a must see to any visit in Southern Italy. Ostuni is also known as “White City” (Città bianca) because its historic center is entirely painted with white lime. It is a very popular tourist destination.
The origins of the city can be placed in the Paleolithic period (approx 50.000 – 40.000 years ago). The area was originally occupied by hunters who built their huts in the caves that characterize the territory of Ostuni.
Human presence in this area around that time was confirmed by the discovery of a skeleton belonging to woman later named as the “Woman of Ostuni”. The skeleton that was found in the cave of Agnano was of a woman who was pregnant at the time of death, her body was later dated to be about 25,000 years old.
Ostuni was occupied and inhabited by Messapi, Lombards and Romans but it was under the Spanish empire of Isabella of Aragon that the city reached its economic and cultural peak. It’s also in this period that the city witnessed an intense urban development; the Spaniards strengthened the fortifications walls of the city and built the towers of Pozzella and San Leonardo. The towers were built in 1539 along all the shoreline, as protection against anticipated attacks from the Turks who controlled the Balkans. These towers (still existing, including Pozzella Tower, the Pylon, Villanova and others), were permanently garrisoned and communicated through fire beacons.
Today Ostuni is a city which bases its economy on agriculture and the processing and exporting of its products such as: olive oil, almonds and wine. Ostuni’s historical center is very distinctive; the roofs of the houses are painted with white lime.
Use of white lime originated in the Middle Ages as it was easy to find and gave more light to the small alleys that make up the historic center In addition, the white lime was a way to prevent the spread of the plague in the seventeenth century, this is how Ostuni gained its nick name ‘White City’.
There are many examples of the ancient architecture, among them to highlight the walls, the Cathedral and the Column of Sant’Oronzo. The Cathedral is situated on a hilltop surrounded and protected by the houses of the old quarter, it can be reached by walking along the only road that connects the Cathedral to Sant’Oronzo Square, a narrow and winding road but very characteristic and full of little shops / boutiques. Scenic walks can be taken around the city along roads that offer exceptional views from the surrounding countryside to the coastline.
In the area around Ostuni there are also several Masserie. A Masseria was a fortified farmhouse typical in Southern Italy and in particular in Puglia. They were owned by wealthy families and landowners. The farmhouses were sometimes occupied by landowners, but the large constructions also included the homes of peasants and in some areas even pitches, stables, stores and forage crops.
For further information please visit the website: www.borgostuni.it
Lecce may be called the Florence of the Baroque. In this artistic tendency in Italy there is nothing that can be compared. This is how that the historian Gregorovius described Lecce. Lecce is the capital of the Lecce province and of the Salento sub-region.
Located just 11 Km far from the Adriatic Sea and 23Km from the Ionian Sea, it lies in the middle of fertile plain, surrounded by attractive countryside, seashore and small towns. The city can easily be reached from Brindisi airport and it makes the perfect destination for a weekend break or a holiday as it’s a great base for exploring the Salento Peninsula.
Lecce is the Baroque masterpiece of Italy and stupefies tourists with its little-known magnificence, its noble palaces and undeniable beauty of its numerous churches. In 2010 the city has been listed in “Best in Travel 2010” by Lonely Planet.
Lecce’s history goes back a long way, it was founded by Messapians and then conquered by Romans during the 3rd century BC, at that time it was named Lupiae. Over the centuries, the city has been conquered by many civilizations – the Norman, the Byzantine, the Spanish and other dynasties had settled here and have left a lot of traces of their existence through art and architecture.
Its long and noble history is certainly witnessed by the numerous buildings and Churches scattered across its lovely historic centre. The town’s great artistic treasure is its architecture with picturesque little lanes and Baroque churches with facades finely decorated. The 17th century was definitely the period of prosperity which led to grand developments and the construction of palaces and churches. These buildings adapted the fashionable Baroque style to the soft local stone, with decorations and cherubs extravagantly covering facades and doorways. This local style is known as barocco Leccese (‘Lecce Baroque’).
Lecce is built of stone that glints gold and cream in the sunlight, it is taken from the surrounding land and it is called pietra leccese (literally stone from Lecce), a light yellow, soft, compact and easily workable limestone. More than the architects, it was the local craftsmen and masons who left their mark in this city, working the stone and letting their ideas run wild especially when designing the facades and creating marvellous compositions made up of animals, birds, monsters, cherubs, flowers and fruit.
We start our tour from St. Oronzo square (piazza Sant’Oronozo). This is the central square and big heart of the city, surrounded by shops and cafes it is constantly full of people; it is site of the most important Roman ruins: a 25,000-seat theatre and amphitheater from the 1st century BC, this is where many wild fights between gladiators and beasts had taken place. A big column stands atop the square and a statue of bishop and patron saint Oronzo is perched on top of it. It is one of the two columns which marked the end of ancient Appia road and originally stood in Brindisi.
Piazza Duomo (Duomo Square), one of the most beautiful squares in Italy is definitely the best example of Baroque architecture: it is a big enclosed square with the Cathedral sitting on the left corner alongside the 50m high campanile (bell tower). The double-facade Cathedral was built in 1659 with a Latin cross shape and has 13 altars. The main facade is characterized by very simple architecture while the side facade has an exuberant baroque style. Completing the square is the Episcopio (Bishop’s Palace) which is the Bishop’s residence and is built just beside the Cathedral and the Seminario (Seminary). It is adorned with friezes and tall pillars and the courtyard has a beautiful well with two angelic guardians, it is decorated with garlands and also bunches of fruits and flowers.
One of the most fascinating expressions of baroque architecture is the Church of Santa Croce, (which lies north of St. Oronzo square) whose baroque façade is as exuberant as its large Renaissance interior is austere. It took a team of craftsmen over 100 years to complete the church but the result is astonishing. Entirely built which leccese stone the facade is a masterpiece of ancient architecture to marvel at, it is ornamented with strange beasts and allegories, cherubs, fantastical monsters, plants. The interior, in stark contrast to the facade, it is done in plain Renaissance style.
Other main sights in the city are: Church of St. Nicolò and Cataldo built in 1180, Church of St. Irene dedicated to one of the three patron saints (Oronzo, Domenico and Irene), Church of St. Chiara with a madly decorated altar. Porta Rudiae the ancient entrance to the city before leaving this honour to Porta Napoli also called Triumphal Arch, consisting of two slender Corinthian pairs of columns it is one of the most popular landmarks in town. The castle which was built around an ancient Norman fortification, it consists of two concentric trapezoidal structures surrounded by solid battlements and an impenetrable moat.
The Sigismondo Castromediano Province Museum is the oldest in Puglia and as it has been the only museum for years it has an impressive archaeological collection coming from any town in the region. This gives a deep insight to the different ages and civilization the region has gone through.
But Lecce is not only Churches, museums and Baroque buildings. Lecce’s old city centre is a big outdoor museum: there’s a grace and original elegance in its wonderful small streets, alleys and courtyards packed with upmarket boutiques, antique shops and furniture restorers. There will be always something capturing your glance: a delicate wrought-iron balustrade, a curving whitewashed arch or simply a soft amber street lamp.
Lecce is also famous for the craftspeople who construct various models out of cartapesta (papier màché), there are plenty of small studios in the old town where these artists can be admired while modelling a wire and covering it with paper dipped in glue. Finally the model is painted with oil paints.
Not to be missed is also the pietra leccese tradition with many studios in town where artists work and model the famous stone creating great sculptures.
Gallipoli is a wonderful town in the province of Lecce and is undoubtedly a must-see in the Salento area. Its name derives from the original Greek name ‘Kalé polis’ meaning ‘beautiful city’. Located along the Ionian coast, the town is divided into two parts: the new and also bigger part is of recent construction and is where the main public buildings and businesses are located. The old part of the town is on a small walled island connected to the mainland by a 6th century bridge. Aside of the bridge there is the Aragonese Castle, it was built in the 13th century and is one of the few castles washed by the sea.
Gallipoli is a great town for exploration, lose yourself wandering its winding, picturesque streets. The little old town is surrounded by powerful walls constructed with the aim to defend the city against enemies. Mostly built of white stone, the small historic center is a collection of small streets that blend to form a maze, where you can find beautiful baroque buildings including the Cathedral of Sant’Agata, built in 1629, it is a wonderful example of the Lecce baroque style developed in this region. Of particular historical interest is also the Greek fountain (rebuilt in 1560) being the oldest fountain in Italy. Wandering in the small streets of the old town you will find small shops and businesses where local food and wine can be purchased along with souvenirs. The historic center also houses the fish market, just underneath the bridge, small but very nice and characteristic.
Gallipoli is indeed famous for its fishing port and is a must-visit for seafood lovers. Thanks to its numerous white, sandy beaches and crystal-clear water, Gallipoli is one of the most sought tourist destinations of South Italy. Most of the beautiful beaches are outside the city center, however the “Seno della Purità” meaning the “Breast of Purity”, is within the town walls. It’s a small, pleasant beach where you can take a swim during your visit.
After your swimming, climb up the town walls and sit outdoors to eat a seafood dinner at one of the restaurants overlooking this harbor as night falls, certainly the perfect ending to an enjoyable day in Gallipoli. Fun is always guaranteed in Gallipoli, the day can be enjoyed on the beach, along with activities such as spas, natural reserves and water sports. At night the city offers also an amazing nightlife. Many discos and nightclubs are within the city or just outside. The evening usually starts as early as in the late afternoon on the beach where you can enjoy the aperitivo and drink a cocktail on the beach listening to music.
Castel del Monte is a castle located near Andria, it was built in the 13th century by order of the Frederick II (during the Swabian domain in Puglia) and it’s probably the most famous buildings that the Emperor ordered to build during his long empire. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
Photo Credits Flickr
The building, still perfectly preserved, is characteristic for its octagonal shape and is a splendid example of a medieval military building. Extraordinary mix of Northern Europe and Oriental architecture elements, the castle has an octagonal plan with eight towers, also octagonal, located at its vertices. Despite being named and known as being a castle there is no presence of a ditch or other structure to protect the building. Its origin is still shrouded in mystery and there are still many different assumptions about the real use of this building.
Photo Credits Flickr
The most common is that the building was a military fortress, some historians argue that the building was used as hunting fortress (mainly by the Emperor who loved hunting falcon), others support the idea it was a temple for religious services or a place where scientists could dedicated to science. In fact, many scientists argue that it was designed to be the largest astronomical observatory in Middle Ages. Fully restored, the castle is now open to public for visit. The image of the castle has already been depicted on the Italian stamps more than once in the past and since 2002 it also appears on 1 Euro cent coins minted in Italy.
For further information please visit the website: www.casteldelmonte.beniculturali.it
Castellana Caves (Castellana Grotte) is a small town in the province of Bari. The town bases its economy mainly on agriculture and tourism. It has a very nice historic center with many ancient buildings dating back to the 17th century.
The town links its name primarily to the enchanting beauty of its caves, the largest and most picturesque complex of caves in Italy and one of the main tourist destination in Puglia. The formation of these karst caves dates back about as far as 90 million years ago. The presence of the caves had been known since the 18th century as people used to tell stories about monsters and ghosts living inside the big chasm (called La Grave) just outside the town.
However it was only in 1938 when the speleologist Franco Anelli descended to the floor of the chasm and started to explore it. As of today this big caves complex is one of the world’s largest karst complex that has ever been explored by man. Since its discovery millions of tourists have been able to admire this wonder of nature.
The whole karst complex is a mix of white stalactites and stalagmites. Their formation started 90M years ago and the process is still ongoing. The process of formation starts with the action of rainwater that is absorbed by the calcareous soil . The water dissolves the calcium carbonate present in the soil, the water then evaporates when it comes into the cave, the calcium carbonate settles to the ground and forms the stalactites and stalagmites . Later on they get covered by crystals.
Some details relating the caves: 2 km long route, 70 meters deep, temperature ranging between 11 and 15 degrees Celsius, humidity is extremely high with peaks of 90%.
The tour starts from the main hall where there is a bust of Franco Anelli. This is called La Grave and is the main entrance to the karst complex. Here you can admire the 50m wide and 60m deep group of stalagmites.
Two different tours can then be taken inside: the classic tour (the shortest one) lasts 50 minutes and is 1Km long. The second one lasts 2 hours and is 2Km long. It leads to the White Cave (Grotta Bianca) which for the whiteness of its alabaster has been defined by cavers as the most gleaming in the world. Here you can truly see the most unspoiled nature as you’ll admire this lunar landscape.
Many caves are scattered along the 2Km path, among the others: the black caves, big caves of monuments, cave of altar, cave of Milan. Names are usually given because of the shape of rocks inside them.
For further information please visit the website: www.grottedicastellana.it