Situated near to Lecce, along
a marvellous Adriatic coastal track of crystal clear water,
is where one can visit Otranto, today a tourist centre which
preserves artistic and architectural gems.
Its name and history are connected to water: The Romans called
it Hydruntum for the presence of the River Hydrus. But it
definitely had a prior history.
The territory was already inhabited during the Neolithic period
(Cervi Caves) as testified by megalithic monuments scattered
around the City.
Legend instead mentions the mythical hero of Troy, Idomeneo.
A true starting point could be that of the arrival of the
Cretan or Mycenaean sailors, who poured in along the coasts
of Southern Italy at the beginning of the I Millennium BC.
It passed to the Romans after the wars with Pirro (275 BC),
and became a commune in 165 BC, enhancing its development
and fortune by becoming an important commercial port along
the route which linked the Eastern provinces of the Empire.
Its importance was recognised by Rome when it was given rights
to mint its own currency (162 AD).
After the scourge of Barbaric invasions by the Visigoths (411)
and Vandals (455) and Ostrogoth domination (496-535), Otranto
and the entire region passed to the Byzantines (553), after
the Greek-Gothic Wars.
In 757 it was conquered by the Longobards, but their domination
in the South of Puglia was short lived and it soon returned
to Byzantine power.
The Saracens besieged the City in 845 after having taken Brindisi
(838) and Taranto (840).
Following this, Otranto became the last bulwark of Constantinople
Imperial power and ceded to Norman power, who conquered the
City only during 1070 with Roberto Guiscard. The Normans had
the new City-wall built.
Further fortified during the 13th Century by Admiral Ruggero
of Lauria, it was then conquered in 1348 by Louis I the Great,
King of Hungry, Angioino.
With the Aragonese ascent to the throne of Naples, Otranto
also passed to the Spanish under Ferdinando I of Aragona.
In 1480, it was besieged for two weeks by a Turkish fleet,
commanded by Ahmet Pasha. The population did not want to surrender,
even after the Turks entered the City and were therefore almost
all completely massacred. Only women and children were saved
and the San Nicola of Casole Abbey was burnt along with its
On 10th September 1481, Aragonese troops reclaimed the City
and under their successor, Emperor Carlo Vth of Hapsburg,
the City was once against fortified and its Castle modified.
The Turks tried new attacks for more than a century, but were
always fended off (1614-1644).
For a few years Otranto also belonged to Venice (1496-1504).
Reconstruction and the wounds of the Turkish invasion, left
a mark on the City, which was unable to free itself for centuries:
there was economic depression during the 17th and 18th Centuries,
the later period seeing the rise of Bourbon power.
The Republican experience, due to the decline of Bonaparte
in Italy (1799) and the subsequent birth of the Republic of
Naples (1806), though of brief duration, took merit in allowing
patriotic ideals to germinate which resulted in the motions
of 1821 and 1848; a maximum manifestation in which the City
of Otranto actively participated.
In 1861, Otranto passed over to the Reign of Italy, commanded
by the Savoia Family.
A visit to the City can begin with the touristic seafront
area, from which one can enter the old suburb through a portal,
and where it is possible to dine whilst enjoying a panoramic
view over the bay.
One will come across the Cathedral (1080-1088) almost immediately,
which guards mosaic flooring (1163-1165) in its interior,
depicting the tree of life, a work by the a monk named Pantaleone.
Other jewels in Otranto are the Byzantine Church of Saint
Peter, dating back to the 9thCentury and which preserves precious
We recommend a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Spirit or the
Madonna of Altomare, and the Sanctuary of S. Maria of the
Martyrs, erected where 800 citizens of Otranto were decapitated
by the Turks in 1480.
A walk uphill will take visitors to the powerful Castle, built
on the wishes of Federick II of Swabia in 1226 and subsequently
modified by the Aragonese (15th Century) and Emperor Carlo
Vth (16th Century).