Weekend in Otranto
Otranto is located on the easternmost coast of Italy, on the Salento Peninsula. The town is 45 km from Lecce, on the Adriatic Sea.
UNESCO recognized the old town as a cultural heritage site for the “message of peace” carried by its monuments.
The promenade of Lungomare degli Eroi, adjacent to the old town, is the starting point for a walk through the town. After passing the monument to the martyrs of Otranto by the sculptor Antonio Bortone, go down the stairs and enter the town through the Porta Alfonsina gate. Here it is worth stopping by the Aragonese castle and the cathedral with its remarkable mosaic floor and the remains of 813 Christian martyrs beheaded by the Turks in 1480.
In the immediate surroundings there is a lake with emerald-green waters that hides among the delicate pinkish hills of a former bauxite mine, and a lighthouse on the Cape of Punta Palascia, which every year welcomes the first Italian sunrise.
A little further south is Porto Badisco, where Aeneas, the hero of the Trojan War, is said to have landed. There, on the walls of the Grotta dei Cervi, called the “Sistine Chapel of the Neolithic”, mysterious ancient pictographs are preserved.
What to see
The Castle of Aragon is the defensive citadel of Otranto, now transformed into a cultural center where many exhibitions and other international events are held.
This fortress has been attacked, repaired and rebuilt more than once. After the siege of 1067 it was rebuilt and the famous attack of the Ottoman Turks in 1480 led to the castle being extended with turrets and artillery positions.
Walking among the majestic castle walls, you can carefully examine the architectural features of the Alfonsina, Duquessa and Hippolyta Towers, the Diamond Fringe Bastion and the Triangular Room, designed with innovative fortification solutions that make the entire Otranto Castle one of the most significant monuments of military architecture of its era.
Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata
The splendid cathedral of Otranto, dedicated to the Annunciation and erected during the Norman age on the site of a settlement of the ancient Messapi people, a Roman mansion and an early Christian temple.
When the Ottoman general Gedik Ahmed Pasha occupied the city by storm in 1480 the medieval building was converted to a mosque, destroying all the 13th century frescoes. The 813 Christians who refused to convert to Islam were beheaded; their remains are now preserved in the unusual Chapel of the Holy Martyrs.
The building has the typical signs of the architectural style of Puglia of the XII century. These are the semicircular arches resting on columns with Corinthian capitals of exquisitely delicate carving. The main attraction of the cathedral is, of course, the magnificent mosaic floor, a masterpiece created by the monk Pantaleone in 1163-1165 depicting the Tree of Life.
The crypt of the cathedral is very interesting with its beautiful marble columns, which have capitals of late antique, Byzantine and early medieval origin as well as those of the time when the temple was built; many of them are decorated with images of animals and human busts.
Port of Otranto
The port of Otranto is a spacious harbour, partly sheltered by the San Nicola breakwater; there are three main quays, oriented towards the north-west, west-north-west and north-west, as well as several smaller quays.
For those wishing to dock in the port, we recommend contacting the district office of the Maritime Office of Otranto on VHF band 16.
Cape Palascia and the tower of Sant’Emiliano
The snow-white lighthouse on the rocky promontory of Punta Palascia near Otranto is the point where you can watch the Adriatic Sea meet the Ionian Sea. It is the easternmost coast of Italy, where you can admire the magnificent colors of dawn.
The sea here has been awarded the prestigious European Blue Flag award and five sails from the Italian environmental association Legambiente. However, this stretch of coast is difficult and swimming here is almost impossible: the steep rocky shores overhang high above the crystal clear and deep waters of deep blue. But they are ideal for diving and small boat trips, which can be taken from the port of Otranto.
The view from the lighthouse is spectacular, and there are many steep and precipitous paths and trekking trails around it, amidst a thicket of Mediterranean shrubs.
Between Cape Punta Palascia and Porto Badisco is one of the wildest spots on the peninsula, the tower of Sant’Emiliano. Here you can swim at the foot of the rocky shore on which the watchtower stands; the beach here is very wild and the sea is blue and immediately very deep, and it is not easy to get close to it.
Walls and Bastions
The fortifications surrounding Otranto are well preserved and can tell you a lot about the city’s long history, rich in important events.
The oldest gate of the old town is called Porta Terra; from here come the grandiose walls that run parallel to the coast, with bastions that were rebuilt by famous architects such as Francesco di Giorgio Martini.
One of the best panoramic points is the Pelazghi bastion, where you can see the port; it is also a key place for local nightlife, especially in summer. In general, there are quite a few restaurants, bars and other establishments along the walls where you can try local fish dishes and other traditional delicacies.
Otranto’s traditional cuisine is as old as the city itself; the local gastronomic tradition is, of course, based on the products that are produced here.
The first dishes include “taiedda” (rice, potatoes and black mussels), fish soup, spelt soup with seafood and sea ruffe, tagliolini pasta with artichokes, village pizza and pizza with potatoes. For the second course we have stuffed meatballs (“polpettone”), fried meatballs, “pittule” (balls of yeast dough fried in boiling olive oil) and, of course, fish, which is cooked in many different ways. The side dishes include grilled eggplant with garlic and mint, roasted green peppers, roasted peppers with onions and tomatoes, and stuffed tomatoes.
Stuffed meatballs (“polpettone”).
For sweets, almond cake, ricotta cake, and “struffoli” (tiny balls of dough fried in olive oil, covered in warm honey, layered in a circle and sprinkled with candied fruit).
How to get there
From Bari on the A16, exit Bari Nord. From Bari: Superstrada Brindisi-Lecce; from Lecce: tangenziale Ovest exit in the direction of Otranto.
State railroads (Ferrovie dello Stato) – from Lecce station. For details: Trenitalia.
Railroads of the Southeast (Ferrovie del Sud-Est). For details: Ferrovie del Sud Est.
The buses run only in summer, stopping in localities throughout the Salento peninsula and the province of Lecce. More information: Salento in treno e bus.
Otranto (Italy) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main sights of Otranto with descriptions, guides and maps.
City of Otranto (Italy).
Otranto is a town and port in the extreme southeast of Italy in the Puglia region. It is situated on top of a picturesque cliff that rises above the turquoise waters of the Adriatic. Otranto is one of the most charming seaside towns in Italy, offering a perfect “smoothie” of ancient history, authentic culture, architecture, white sand beaches and fantastic seascapes.
What to do (Otranto):
€118 per tour.
The stories of Otranto
Aragon castle, Byzantine frescoes and a unique mosaic.
Geography and climate
Otranto is the easternmost town in Italy, situated in the province of Lecce on the Salentine peninsula. The city is located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea strait of the same name, on the opposite side of which is Albania. The climate of Otranto is Mediterranean. It is characterized by hot, dry summers and humid, warm winters.
Port of Otranto
- Population – 5.8 thousand people
- Area – 77,2 km 2
- Language – Italian
- Currency – Euro
- Visa – Schengen
- Time – Central European
The historic center of Otranto is full of small stores selling souvenirs, local handicrafts and textiles, as well as cozy trattorias with traditional Apulian cuisine.
Otranto was founded by the ancient Greeks and is known as Hydros. With the arrival of the Romans, the settlement was renamed Hidruntum, which in the Roman period was one of the most important ports for communication with the Balkans. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Otranto was conquered first by the Goths and then by Byzantium. Until the 11th century, the Greek language and the Orthodox faith prevailed in Otranto.
Otranto. View of the sea from the bastion walls
In the 11th century the city was conquered by the kingdom of Sicily. In 1480 Otranto was conquered by the Turks who practically wiped out the population of the city, killing 15 thousand of its defenders, enslaving 5 thousand inhabitants and executing over 800 people for refusing to accept Islam. The Ottomans left the city a year after the death of Mehmet the Conqueror. In the 16th century Otranto lost its importance and fell into decline.
How to get there
The closest airport is in Brindisi 95 km away and from there buses go to Otranto. There are also regular train connections to Lecce.
Santa Maria Annunziata
Santa Maria Annunziata is a Romanesque cathedral built in the 12th century on the site of an older earlier Christian church. It is the largest medieval church on the Salentine Peninsula and is shaped like a Latin cross with a simple facade, in which the portal and rose window, decorated with columns and sculptures, stand out.
The basilica is divided into three naves by 14 marble columns. In 1482 the right apse was enlarged to create a chapel of martyrs executed by the Turks. An interesting feature of the cathedral is the mosaic made of polychrome tiles, which are made of very hard local limestone.
The bell tower was built in the 12th century in Norman times and is a square tower. Stone and dense white limestone (typical materials of the Salento region) were used in its construction.
The Castle of Aragon is a majestic fortress that is the symbol of Otranto. The castle was built at the end of the 15th century and is in the shape of a rectangular trapezoid with four round towers, one of which faces the sea. It is flanked on all sides by a deep moat, over which a bridge, probably formerly a drawbridge, is thrown.
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the few surviving Byzantine churches on the territory of the Apennine Peninsula. The date of the basilica’s construction has long been a subject of debate among scholars, but judging by the analysis of the structure, frescoes and inscriptions in Greek, the building can be dated to the 9th or 10th century. The temple is in the form of a Greek cross and is divided inside into three small naves topped by a central dome supported by four columns. The three apses below contain magnificent frescoes in Byzantine style dating back to the 10th and 16th centuries.
The clock tower in Piazza del Popolo was built in the late 18th century, is decorated with the city’s coat of arms, and is a famous landmark.
Chapel of the Madonna del Altomare
The Chapel of the Madonna del Altomare is an 18th century church with a simple and modest façade.
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