A visit to the Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate is something not to be missed. Originally a Greek orthodox monastery dating back to some time between the 11th and 12th centuries, then a farm, restoration is still work in progress but the centre is open to visitors. Located in the isolated countryside between Casalabate and Surbo, among vineyards and centuries-old twisted olive trees, it is one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Puglia. The inside is frescoed with beautiful byzantine paintings.
It is believed that it was founded at the beginning of the 12th century by the Norman prince Bohemond 1 of Antioch. It was an important religious and cultural centre until 16th century, undergoing the usual ups and downs of partial destruction, reconstructions and additions until it was transformed into a farm.
The Romanesque church opens over a central green space with three naves, the central one being a much higher wooden gable roof. The interior is made from warm, light local limestone with mighty columns carrying Corinthian capitals, and includes an elegant 18th century alter and several fragments of frescoes on the walls.
Outside the triple facade is extended on the left by a wing with three small open articles marking the front of an arcade running along the left side of the church, formerly a shelter for pilgrims. On the other sides, the green internal space is bordered by simple buildings that once made up the convent complex and subsequently the farm. In the garden, there is an elegant 18th century stone sculpted well.
Inside the building to the right of the church, you will find a small but interesting country life museum, with machinery and other objects and tools on display.
The restoration work continues under the care of the FAI. You can find more information here – https://www.fondoambiente.it/abbazia-di-santa-maria-di-cerrate-eng/