Always take a walk
After a long plane trip or a long car trip, we always take a walk. It's a great way to stretch the legs and get your circulation working again. It is also the best way to get oriented to a new place. You find quaint and pretty things, useful things like grocery stores and restaurants and become comfortable in your new home for the holiday.
Otranto has a marvelous Old Town just made for strolling. There are little shops and galleries, two lovely churches, a real castle and a large promenade by the Adriatic. We both paint so we are always looking for picturesque hidden doorways and wrought iron balconies to paint.
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Always visit the castle
The Castle of Otranto was a novel by Walpole written in 1764 but that isn't mentioned at the castle. It is mentioned by the town tourist site. The name of the castle is Castello Aragonese and it is a major fortification on the Adriatic.
When we visited, there was no written guide book and no audio so you wander on your own. The currently use the castle for visiting art exhibits and there was a rather odd one while we were there. Traveling exhibits are the luck of the draw. Whether or not you have a good exhibit, the castle is fascinating and the views from the top are stunning. You have the Old Town on one side and the harbor on the other.
They were also video-taping a radio show while we were there. I have no idea why one would video-tape a radio show since you can't see it on the radio but I'm sure they knew what they were doing. It was fun to watch them.
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Always visit the church
The church in Otranto is particularly interesting because it is a church of martyrs. In 1480 the citizens of Otranto refused to convert to Islam and the entire town was massacred. This, of course, was not good for Otranto; however, it ended the attempt by the Turks to conquer Italy so Otranto is credited with saving Italy for Christianity. The church has an amazing and huge mosaic floor that dates to the 12th century. It covers nearly the entire church. Also, one of the side chapels has skulls on display, presumably of the martyrs. It's rather gruesome to look up past the altar and see hundreds of skulls behind glass behind the altar.
The web site below links to a blog site that has some magnificent photographs of the inside of the cathedral. The explanations are in English.
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Beaches and coves
Otranto has a facinating history, but its main draw in summertime is its coastal location. The waters here are called the Strait of Otranto and you can find any number of spots to sunbathe and swim in the sea.
The town itself has beaches right in the centre. The harbour is one of Otranto's focal points (the other being the castle) and is attractive enough, but the area for sunbathing is largely man-made concrete. We left the harbour for an evening walk when all of Otranto comes to life.
Instead, we drove back the way we'd come, up the road leading to Lecce. Clearly visible along the road, amongst the dust and scrub, are little sandy areas where you can stop and swim. There are also remains of watchtowers and other fortifications built to protect against Turkish invaders dotted around.
At the first place we stopped, a friendly local couple gave us some advice on where to swim and we enjoyed a quiet dip with beautiful views - very welcome on a boilingly hot day. We later visited a cove near the small town of Melendugno. This place was sadly spoilt by a certain amount of litter, but had a number of tiny secluded area where you felt you had the whole coast to yourself. Just above us was an archaeological area with a ruined tower and walls. Very interesting for a wander, though the main attraction was the swimming. It's worth noting that there was no evidence of a lifeguard in any of these informal places, unlike the beach at Otranto's harbour.
Along the coastal road we also saw plenty of camp sites with their own beaches. These looked quite secluded. And I'd imagine that there are other interesting places to explore driving in the opposite direction to Capo d'Otranto. If you have a car (or scooter, bike) travelling around and stopping at enticing spots is a great way to while away a day.
Cattedrale and mosaico pavimentale
The cathedral was built in the highest part of Otranto so people could see iteverywhere. It 'a wonderful work of 1100, which has undergone changes and additions during the centuries. The particular feature of this cathedral is the floor mosaic that represents the struggle of man between good and evil: is one of the largest full mosaic of the world. The ceiling coffered wood is very beautiful, like the crypt semi circular with Corinthian ionic and roman columns.
like a fortress
Otranto, over the centuries, has had to defend itself from attacks by enemies coming from the sea, then the old city is surrounded by huge ramparts to protect the Castro, there was inside the castle, cathedral and everything they needed to survive
the old town
the old town is the Casto and u have to take a nice walking looking to the old restaured house with their architecture. Now Otranto is famouse not only for the Castro and the old beauty but also for the magnificent coast with incredible beaches, so many stanger have bought old house in the old center to spend the holiday or to convert them in luxury B&B.
Otranto have a nice waterfront with restaurants, a special big ice cream and 'pasticceria' (delicious) where u can spend a plesant evening looking to the people that love to do 'watching people' and love to be watched!
At the end of the waterfront after the little bridge there is a nice garden with some street vendor of local pistachios, almonds and peanuts......
the beach in the town
if u are lazy to go to the big main beaches in the north of Otranto, or only u wantoto relax for a while sunbathing or swimming a little bit u cna stay in the 'central' beach....the sea is blue and nice, a little bit crowded in high season, but perfect for a quick stop after a hot walking in the Castro.
I didn't get a pic of the Duomo - sorry,
But I must tell you about it because it is rather special. And then you will have the pleasure of seeing it for yourself for the first time, unmediated by pics.
It's very very old. Older than anyone living, or their grandmother.
The mosaic floor is rather heathen - a tree of life resting on the backs of elephants.
And in a chapel to the side of the altar - behind the statue of the Madonna - are glass cases packed floor to ceiling with ancient bones and skulls.
The site of what is called by some - the last Christian massacre in Europe (by Ottomans) is near by. We saw it, driving home. Very ordinary looking place as so many massacre sites seem to be.
The Ottomans overcame the opposing army - and said anyone who would convert would be spared. And apparently one after the other the soldiers stepped forward to be beheaded rather than give up their religion.
I can see how a story could be elaborated, over the centuries, by spin doctors.
Maybe there was just a huge pile of slain - and to give their death resonance a story was concocted. Something more meaningful and glorious than just as the dust of battle cleared - thousands of young men in the prime of life lying around in big dead heaps.
Anyway the fact remains there was a big heap of dead lying out in the open. These turned into a big heap of bones. And someone reckoned it would be nicer to clear them all up and pop them in glass cases behind the statue of the Madonna in the Duomo.
A young local lad told me they were out in the open for a couple of years before anyone did anything about them.
Rather gruesome for anyone not used to ancient bones displayed in sacred places.
A lovely little town.
In March the weather was balmy and fresh. The streets weren't crowded. The proprietors of the cafes and restaurants stood on the street with their arms folded watching our group stroll by with benevolent interest. The sea was as blue as it could be. The locals and the lizards were friendly.
This is a place I would like to come back to and relax into. The pace of life suited me.
BUT - we did stop for a coffee and the waitress was overwhelmed by coffee for 30. First she wouldn't take our order and just wiped tables.
Then she took one order at a time.
I was getting hyped up and suggested she should go back to waitress school to the nice guy sitting next to me.
He said - ever so nicely - that when one is in the South one doesn't criticise the pace of life.
I assured him I criticise waitresses wherever I go - and he agreed that was fair enough.
One's stroll is enlivened by lizards - perfectly camoflauged for wild fig trees - pausing to inspect one as they soak up the sun on the sea wall.
And by eyeing the plentiful fruit on the wild fig trees growing willynilly on the slopes above the sea and wondering when it would be ripe.
I was told I would have left the South by the time the figs were ripe. (The locals were most amused at my hunger for ripe figs - there is apparently a bit of a glut on the market with figs in this district. ) But that would mean I would have to come back when the figs were ripe.
At dinner that night a kind of fig relish was pressed on me. Very nice too. But my hunger was for sun warmed figs plucked for free as I strolled around.
The Castle, The Cathedral.........
The Castle, reinforced by Emperor Frederick II and rebuilt by Alfonso I of Aragon.
The Cathedral, consecrated in 1088, a work of Count Roger I adorned later (about 1163), by Bishop Jonathas, with a mosaic floor; it has a rose window and side portal of 1481. The interior, a basilica with nave and two aisles, contains columns said to come from a temple of Minerva and a fine mosaic pavement of 1166, with interesting representations of the months, Old Testament subjects, etc. It has a crypt supported by forty-two marble columns. The same Count Roger also founded a Basilian monastery here, which, under Abbot Nicetas, became a place of study; its library was nearly all bought by Bessarion.
The church of San Pietro, with Byzantine frescoes.
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The cathedral floor is one of the most complicated medieval mosaics to survive. It takes the form of a tree and covers the whole nave and the aisles as well. Look out for the Signs of the Zodiac, King Arthur and all sorts of wonders.
We went on a Saturday when they were putting chairs out for Sunday services - might be best to go in the week when it may be clear of chairs.
Basilica di San pietro
The basilica of St. Peter is the best example of medieval church of Byzantine origin in Puglia, well preserved and restored.
Look for it between the streets of the old city