Puglia Evo World – All the Puglia of oil in one click

P.O.D. Terre d’Otranto: From Lecese Baroque to Grecia Salentina

Journey into the heart of Salento’s inland villages, exploring richly decorated churches and palaces, underground oil mills steeped in history, and the magical atmosphere of the taranta.

P.O.D. Terre d’Otranto extra virgin olive oil is produced in the extreme tip of Italy’s heel, in the territory of Puglia between the Otranto Channel and the Gulf of Taranto, including municipalities in the Taranto and Brindisi provinces, as well as the province of Lecce. Here, Salento becomes a bridge towards the East, with plains alternating with the Serre, small rocky hills that make up the Salento Murgia. Our itinerary takes you away from the coasts and the most traveled tourist routes, starting from Lecce and passing through a series of villages, reached by crossing stretches of olive groves, tobacco fields, vineyards, and the ever-present prickly pears.

Lecce, known as the “Florence of the Baroque,” is a concentration of architectural gems from the 17th and 18th centuries. Its historic center has a stylistic imprint linked to the numerous palaces and churches with richly decorated facades erected after Masaniello’s revolt and the return of the Spaniards to Naples. The best way to appreciate the city is to get lost in its streets, perhaps at sunset when the warm color of the local Lecce stone, a limestone worked by generations of stonecutters into lace-like decorations, becomes even warmer. Start from Piazza Duomo, dramatic as a theatrical stage where the Cathedral, the Episcopal Palace, and the Seminary overlook. Then continue on Via Libertini to admire a parade of palace and church facades. Stop to visit the Basilica of S. Croce, one of the most important examples of Lecese Baroque, with its ornate rose window and a series of putti embracing symbols of spiritual and temporal power. Before leaving, stop in Piazza Sant’Oronzo to admire the remains of the majestic Roman amphitheater, rediscovered in the early 20th century, and take a detour to the Castle of Charles V, home to interesting temporary exhibitions. Not far from Lecce, a detour to the Abbey of S. Maria di Cerrate is worthwhile, one of the most important examples of medieval architecture in Puglia, immersed in a charming landscape characterized by orchards and olive groves producing Terre d’Otranto D.O.P. extra virgin olive oil. After being a Byzantine rite monastery with a scriptorium and library, it became a center of agricultural production specializing in olive processing, thanks to two underground oil mills documented since the 16th century.

 

Proceeding south, make a stop in Acaya, a delightful fortified village built in the 16th century by the powerful feudal family from which it takes its name. Then, visit Calimera, a town in Grecia Salentina, a small Salento linguistic island where a Greek-derived dialect called Grico is spoken. Connections with Greek culture are evidenced not only by the name of the town but also by the funerary stele in Attic marble donated by the city of Athens in 1960, now preserved in the public gardens. The Matrice Church, built in 1689 on the ruins of a Greek rite church, is also interesting.

It is precisely in the land of Grecìa Salentina that the Festival della Notte della Taranta takes place every August, starting from Corigliano d’Otranto and ending with a grand final concert in Melpignano, dedicated to rediscovering the sounds of tradition.

Among the places touched by the festival is Galatina, a town that reached its peak under the rule of the Orsini del Balzo. It was they who built the church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria in the 14th century. The 15th-century frescoes covering the interiors constitute such an extensive and majestic pictorial cycle that makes the Basilica of Galatina second only to San Francesco d’Assisi. Spongano is worth a stop, especially for the Baronial Palace Bacile di Castiglione, which houses an underground oil mill active from the 17th century until the mid-20th century.

Crossing expanses of fields with olive trees producing Terre d’Otranto P.O.D. extra virgin olive oil, climb to Specchia, listed among the most beautiful villages in Italy, characterized by narrow streets interrupted by flights of stairs. Below street level, the road of Hypogeal Oil Mills winds its way: Scupola, Cicca, Perrone, and Francescani Neri were excavated between the 16th and 19th centuries in calcarenitic tuff or Lecce stone and are testimonies to the enormous olive oil production in this area of Puglia in past centuries. Conclude the itinerary in Presicce, with its precious urban fabric, rich in churches and noble palaces, surrounded by a countryside dominated by the white of dry stone walls and the green of olive trees producing Terre d’Otranto P.O.D. extra virgin olive oil.

In Lecce, ancient olive trees whisper tales. These are stories of nymphs, shepherds, and witches known as “macare.” Centuries-old narratives that have evolved into legends, transporting us to the megalithic site between Giuggianello and Minervino di Lecce. The colossal stones, inexplicably positioned millennia ago, are dolmens and menhirs that might have witnessed enchanted stories. One of these tales revolves around the majestic olive trees that abundantly soar with silver fronds in Salento.

As per the account attributed to Nicander of Colophon (2nd century B.C.), it is narrated like a fable that in the land of the Messapi, the so-called “Sacred Rocks” once hosted the unexpected arrival of dancing nymphs. The young shepherds abandoned their flocks to watch, proclaiming they could dance better. Unaware that their competition wasn’t with mortal peers, the youths danced clumsily, like shepherds, while the graceful and divine nymphs emerged victorious. Addressing the defeated, legend has it they said, “foolish youth, you dared to compete with nymphs, and now that you’ve lost, you shall pay the price.”

The young shepherds were instantly transformed into trees, in a place now known as the Sanctuary of the Nymphs. In Minervino di Lecce, it is told that even today, local farmers discourage their children from venturing where they might encounter these nymphs.

The culture of olive oil undergoes a millennia-old and tireless evolution. In Salento, the heart of commercial exchanges and a region with ancient experimentation in olive cultivation, the shipwrecks of amphorae filled with oil and wine that traversed the Mediterranean have handed down a wealth of information.

A visit to the Sigismondo Castromediano Museum in Lecce allows you to admire the evolution of olive oil, utilized yesterday and today in cosmetics and highly valued for culinary consumption. Once indispensable for lighting lamps and consequently known as “lamp oil.”

The Gallipoli of yesteryear, when the oil departing from here illuminated Europe, has preserved a significant trace of this olive oil production: the underground olive press of Palazzo Granafei, recognized by the Italian Environmental Fund (FAI). It is an underground space, as were all ancient presses, benefiting from a cool and constant temperature conducive to the successful processing of olives. However, this Gallipoli underground, rumored to house at least thirty subterranean presses, is just a glimpse: in the province of Lecce, Brindisi, and Taranto, an increasing number of them are open to visitors.