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.
Known as the pearl of Salento, you will love its beautiful old town, stage of many historic battles that alternates with splendid views of the turquoise sea of the Salento coast.
Things to see in Otranto
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.
Historic City Center
One of the essential things to do in Otranto is to stroll through its fascinating walled historic center. It is located next to the port and offers a wonderful views of the sea. 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.
The historic center that can be seen in Otranto is one of the most beautiful in Puglia, full of history it has managed to preserve the atmosphere of bygone times in its oldest streets. Among the labyrinth of streets are two of the main places of interest to visit in Otranto: the Cathedral and the Aragonese Castle.
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 to defend the city after the Turkish domination. The castle walls are surrounded and protected by a large moat, and from its walls you will have fantastic views of the port and the historic center.
You can visit its interior, after paying the entrance fee, where you will access the tunnels, basements and galleries. It is open to the public and sometimes houses temporary exhibitions and events of all kinds.
Cathedral of Saint Maria Assunta
Another masterpiece of Baroque architecture, the highest point of the historic center 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.
Things to see near Otranto
There is loads to see near Otranto and we recommend to visit some of these beautiful places.
Cava di Bauxite lake
You will rarely find this lake on the traditional tourist guides, however we recommend to visit it. It is located South of Otranto, easily accessible by car, you’ll have to walk a few hundreds meters to enjoy the so called red lake
It is an old mine, nowadays in disuse, in which an emerald-colored lake has been formed that contrasts sharply with the red color of the oxide of the walls that surround it. Despite not being one of the best-known places to see in Otranto, this lake is one of the most photographed places in the region, creating unique panoramic views.
Baia dei Turchi
Located a few kilometers from Otranto, the Baia dei Turchi was so named because this is apparently where the Turks landed and then invaded the area. This small bay belongs to the Alimini Lakes Natural Park and is hidden in a lush pine forest. It has a sea so clear and transparent that you will not believe it is possible. The Baia dei Turchi is Salento in its purest form, a surprising place where the sea takes on all kinds of shades of blue and the closer you get to it, the more transparent it becomes. Behind the beach is the pine forest.
Other places to visit
These is so much to do and to see near Otranto. However among all those places, we strongly recommend to visit Lecce – the dame of Baroque Architecture, Gallipoli – the pearl on the Ionia coast, Porto Badisco – a small sand and stone beach with a crystal clear and cold sea, the Zinzulusa Cave – a karst cave and Acaya – a fortified village.