Otranto Travel Guide

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Otranto - Monumento ai Caduti

Otranto - Monumento ai Caduti

Antonio Pellegrino (Pisi)

Otranto is located in the south of Puglia. The city was probably founded by Greek colonists from the island of Crete. The Byzantines made the city into the capital of the Terra d'Otranto and they fortified the town, making it one of the strongholds which were destined to defend the region against the incursions of the Normans. In 1068 it was occupied by Robert le Guiscard, when he snatched the whole of southern Apuleia from the Byzantines. Otranto then enjoyed a long period of prosperity, based most of all on its port activities and its geographical position, which favored the busy commercial traffic with the east, and also the transit of the Crusaders bound for the Holy Land. In 1384 it was conquered by the Angevins, and then by the Aragonese, and in 1480 it was besieged by the Turks under Mehmet II the Conqueror, who almost completely destroyed it and massacred the inhabitants. Clearly Otranto was a target for many conquerors because of its position, and in fact after being retaken in 1481 by the Aragonese, it only stayed in their hands for a short time; in 1484 it passed to the Venetians, and after eleven more years, it was occupied by the French in 1495.
But the constant threat from the Turks prevented the city from returning to its former splendors, and thus its importance constantly decreased. The land around the town, no longer in cultivation, returned to marshland, and consequently malaria spread throughout the region.

In more recent times land-improvement, the disappearance of malaria and the use of irrigation schemes has permitted agriculture to flourish again, and today the district produces vegetables, cereals and forage. The latter crop has made it possible to rear substantial herds of cows. Fishing is also an important productive industry here.

The port is very busy, especially because of the ferry service to Greece, and tourism and seaside holidays are constantly developing, because of the very fine beaches and the constantly developing, because of the very fine beaches and the constantly improving hotel facilities.

Despite the destructions it has undergone, Otranto has preserved a very well-defined historic centre, which has particular charm because of the southern character of its houses painted with bright colours, and enclosed within the circle of the fortifications which face on to the southern side of the natural harbour.

The modern town, on the other hand, has mainly grown up along the coast and in the immediate hinterland, towards the hills of Monte Carlo Magno and Minerva, beautiful panoramic position from which the whole city below is overlooked together with the channel which bears its name. This channel is 70 kilometres wide, and runs between Cape Otranto and Cape Linguetta in Albania.

Of the Greek and Roman ages, all that is left to the town is a small number of stones in the doorway of the Casa Arcella. Some of the columns in the Cathedral probably come from the vanished temple dedicated to Minerva. The Cathedral built in 1080-88, is rich in eastern influence both in its architecture and its decoration. It was restored in 1481 after the ravages of the Turks, and recently it has been stripped of its baroque overlay and returned to its original form. A little way away from the town are the Gothic remains of the church of San Nicola di Casole, built in the fifth to seventh centuries, and destroyed by the Turks in their 1480 occupation.

The Alfonsina Tower dates from 1483, and the greater part of the turreted Walls and the castle also date from the fifteenth century. The castle was built by Ferdinand of Aragon between 1485 and 1498; it has a square plan with cylindrical towers at the corners, and it is partly surrounded by the traditional moat. The doorway on the left hand side of the Cathedral and the octagonal well in the courtyard of the adjacent seminary date from the Renaissance period. The Church of San Francesco di Paola (or Santa Maria dei Martiri) which was built as 8 memorial to the citizens massacred by the Turks in the 1480's dates from the sixteenth century.

Contributors

March 07, 2008 change by salinger1980 (1 point)

July 04, 2007 change by lpx

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