Eight hundred people
Otranto is located on the Adriatic coast of the Salento peninsula in the province of Lecce, is a medieval town with a population of five thousand people whose eight hundred residents live within the city wall.
The borough was a messapico, Roman, Byzantine and Aragonese center which mainly developed near the Castle and the Cathedral of Rome. Noteworthy are the archaeological finds in the testimony of the flourishing trade with Greece. In the fourth century, it was separated from the Roman Empire and, in the sixth century ,was created the Duke of Otranto by Giustino and, in the ninth century, with the Byzantine conquest of Italy, Otranto began a period of maximum splendor, becoming a major center for trade with the East.
The fortification of the village was built by the Aragonese in 1480 after the Turkish devastation that provided to improve the defense system of the towers of the walls as well as Porta Alfonsina as the only access to the village.
The Byzantine Basilica of St. Peter built with three apses and a lovely crypt interval between the tenth and eleventh century with rosette window in Gothic-Arabic and portal of 1674. Inside the Church, there is a Greek cross and various Byzantine paintings and embellished with three naves with fourteen columns in granite, Romanesque capitals and an outstanding mosaic floor of 1166 that stands the tree of life that goes from the nave with two aisles supported by two elephants and Adam and Eve. The mosaic floor, from the transept till under the altar in the shape of an oriental rug and shows the months with the zodiac signs. The pictures arranged around the old circular altar evokes an ambience of Jonah from the Bible that foretells the destruction of Ninive, a winged and feathered serpent crushing a deer, Samson killing the lion, a monkey and a baboon eating an apple while a deer watching them.
The Aragonese Castle was built between 1485 and 1489 with pentagonal plan, three cylindrical towers and a fortress with spear coats of arms (by Antonio de Mendoza and Don Pedro da Toledo) in the side that faces the sea, as well as a further coat of arms of Charles V. on the gateway.
The ruins of the Abbey of San Nicola di Casole, are located outside the center of the village with the ancient community of Basilian monks of the twelfth century, destroyed by the Turks in 1480, as the highest level cultural center of priceless manuscripts which are nowadays kept in the most influential museums worldwide. Finally, the messapi underground catacombs (ancient Italic population resident in Messapia, in an area corresponding to the southern Murgia and the Salento between the provinces of Lecce, Brindisi and part of the province of Taranto) are located in the Valley of Memories.
DOC Wine and olive oil in Otranto
The area of Salento is recognized worldwide for its excellent production of extra virgin olive oil, thanks to the important cultivation of olive trees. Significant and strong character are the DOC wines such as Alezio, the Cupertino and the Salice Salentino. The local cuisine has a mixture of peasant and marinated tractions capable of satisfying even the most demanding palates with the preparation of succulent dishes based on meat or fish.