There is something very special about Otranto …… You will read this in many places. And there is something very special about Otranto for us. It’s the place we first visited back in 1998 when we first fell in love with Puglia, and the seeds of our dream were sown. Now we want to share Otranto with you.
Otranto is just under one hour’s drive from Casalabate and Lendinuso, a leisurely drive down the eastern coast of Puglia. Follow the coastal road south, through Torre Rinalda, Torre Chianca and Frigole and down to San Cataldo. As you continue along route S611 you will find, in the Vernole district, marshlands protected by an international convention where a World Wildlife Fund volunteer guide is available to show you around. Continue southwards through the resorts of Santa Foca, Roca Vecchia, Torre dell’Orso and Sant’Andrea taking time to explore the pine woods, sandy beaches and small harbours, until the Alimini lakes announce your approach to Otranto.
We first visited Otranto in late September. In the mornings the weather was perfect for exploring the historic centre of Otranto, warm and sunny but not too hot to explore on foot. And still warm enough to spend the afternoons on the sandy beaches and swimming in the Adriatic. Otranto is known now for its artistic wealth and also for its exceptionally good climate throughout most of the year. Otranto port has always been of considerable importance because of trade with the East. Activity in the port has increased again, partly due to the ferry service to Greece, commerce and tourism.
The old town of Otranto has remained untouched and preserves its charm. Narrow stone-paved streets wind among houses, restaurants and small shops, converging on the Cathedral. Look out for :
- the Cathedral finished and inaugurated in 1088,
- the castle and ramparts, the work of the Neapolitan Aragoneses,
- the Byzantine Church of St Peter, originally serviced by Greek clergy living peaceably with the latin clergy of Otranto
- the church of St Mary of Martyrs on Minerva Hill
At the entrance to the old town granite cannonballs launched by the Turks in 1480 still stand, testifying to a glorious history. It is believed that Otranto, the most eastern town in Italy, was founded by Greek colonists from the island of Crete, and became the bridge connecting the East with the Western societies of the Mediterranean basin. The Byzantines made the city into the capital of the Terra d’Otranto until 1068 when Robert le Guiscard snatched the whole of southern Puglia from the Byzantines. Otranto enjoyed a long period of prosperity until it was beseiged by the Turks in 1480 when it was completely destroyed. Otranto then changed hands many times but the constant threat from the Turks prevented it from returning to its former splendours and the land returned to marshland.
More recently, with land-improvement, agriculture has flourished again and Otranto is once again an important part of Puglia. More than that, it is a place to enjoy, explore and discover the delights of the historical centre, or simply soak up the sunshine, the crystal clear sea and the Italian ambience.