Salento (in Salento’s dialect: lu Salentu) also known as the Salento peninsula, in ancient times called Messapia (“Land between two seas“), was inhabited by the Messapi, probably of Illyrian origin, and it is an Italian geographic region corresponding to southern Puglia, between the Ionian Sea to the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east. It constitutes the heel of the Italian boot. The inhabitants of the area, which includes the entire province of Lecce, almost all of Brindisi and part of Taranto, are distinguished above all by glottological characteristics compared to the rest of Puglia. From a historical point of view, Salento has been part of the ancient district called Terra d’Otranto for many centuries. The landscape has many characteristic elements. The Salento countryside is cultivated almost everywhere, and the arboreal vegetation is mostly made up of expanses of ancient olive trees, with twisted and large trunks. The landed property is generally divided into small plots, separated by the typical dry stone walls. Stone has always been used also to make various dry constructions, used by farmers to rest or to store work tools. These buildings (defined according to the different areas: furnieḍḍi, pajare, etc.) are more similar to the Sardinian nuraghi than to the Apulian trulli. There are numerous fortified farms dating back mostly to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, as well as numerous cave settlements, archaeological sites, menhirs, crypts, castles, underground oil mills and splendid churches. The countries, generally sparsely populated, have a typically Mediterranean appearance and are characterized by the intense white of the buildings which makes them dazzling on sunny days. In an orographically poorly characterized landscape, they stand out compared to the countryside, dominated by the reddish color of a soil where the presence of iron is high, unlike the central-northern Puglia, where instead this blood color is much rarer.
The coast is among the most beautiful in Italy. From a chromatic point of view the sea takes on a dark blue color when observed from the high cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea, and more subtle but varied in its shades (emerald green, green, light blue, etc.) if observed from sandy beaches or from low cliffs of the Ionian sea. Along the coasts of both seas, the inhabited centers are not numerous; however, it is possible to admire the numerous and ancient coastal watchtowers, quadrangular or circular in shape, built over the centuries to defend against the arrival of pirate hordes. Gallipoli is called “the pearl of the Ionian” but the whole Ionian stretch that goes from Ugento to Punta Prosciutto is a masterpiece of nature among bays, caves and inlets that trace the restless profile of this strip of land. It ranges from the boundless beaches of Ugento to the crystal clear sea of Porto Cesareo, passing through the elegant landing of Santa Caterina and its natural parks: Porto Selvaggio and the Palude del Capitano.
In addition to the aforementioned centuries-old olive groves and vineyards that characterize the area, the vegetation also consists of prickly pear, which grows spontaneously both inland and along the coast and of the almond tree, which begins to bloom already in mid-January. In spring, the land under the olive trees, the edge of the paths and roads, as well as the interstices of the dry stone walls, are covered with flowers in a chromatic explosion ranging from the red of the poppies to the yellow and white of the daisies.
During summer, the blood color of the earth becomes the protagonist with the green of the Mediterranean scrub. The polychrome berries then announce the autumn and the following mild winter.
The architectural landscape recalls the cities of Greece for the absolute predominance of white “lime” houses, without roof (with attic), especially in the countryside and on the coast, but the historic centers are characterized by the Lecce’s Baroque, a Spanish legacy of Plateresco, which, compared to the Baroque of the rest of Italy, divests it self of the pictorial overabundance of the interiors and transforms the external facades of churches and palaces into real sculpted tapestries. In this, the local “Lecce stone” was of great importance, tender and malleable and with a warm pinkish yellow color.
The typical structure of the historic centers of Salento, therefore, is characterized by a very compact fabric (there is no separation between the houses) of white alleys with walls painted with lime always brightened (with the exception of the city of Lecce and the Maglie area , where the residential houses are also built in the rosacea-white stone from the quarries (of Cursi) on whose walls the bright colors of the fixtures stand out, interspersed with noble palaces and baroque period churches in stone.
The architectural-urbanistic entity of the courtyard house of Arab origin is also typical of Sicily. Many alleys, in fact, have what are apparently other perpendicular alleys, but turn out to be blind, ending a few meters away. The doors and windows of many homes overlook this urban space, defined as a courtyard (from the Latin cohorte, “space that includes the vegetable garden”, “enclosure”), with the desired result of making it a common living space, a sort a popular drawing room where, in times gone by, many families lived most of the day chatting, embroidering and helping each other with household chores.
In general, in addition to the poor furnishings of potted seedlings, in a courtyard there is never a characteristic common pile, a sort of stone washtub equipped with a grooved part (stricaturu) on which to wring clothes. In some areas, even these courtyards are hidden by a door (mignano) that fakes the entrance of a house, revealing, once opened, the entrance of this multi-family space.
From the musical point of view, in recent years “pizzica” and the formal revision of tarantism, now emptied of its traditional anthropological connotations, in contaminated and modern musical forms has assumed the dimensions of cultural phenomenon, to the point of making it the most characteristic and famous signs of recognition of Salento, which now exports this musical form everywhere, almost as a trademark. During the “Taranta night” in August, every year, in Melpignano, in the square of the former Augustinian convent, thousands of people dance until dawn. In addition, there is a vast choice between discos, restaurants, pubs and beach clubs that at sunset and turn into night clubs, especially in Gallipoli.
Salento’s cuisine is characterized by numerous typical dishes, especially based on vegetables and fish, and it is accompanied by famous and fine DOC wines such as Primitivo di Manduria or Negroamaro. Among the most typical dishes there are “pezzetti” , a horse meat stew with spicy sauce, and the “potato pitta”, a low potato pizza containing a large amount of vegetable ingredients, such as onions, turnips, tomatoes. Also typical is bread with olives called “puccia” and, as far as “walking” gastronomy is concerned, the “rustico”, a thin sheet cooked in the oven containing a mixture of bechamel, mozzarella, tomato, pepper and occasionally nutmeg. Another typical food of the whole Puglia region, are the “friseddhe” or “frise”, doughnut shapes toasted bread up to a consistency of great hardness, often made with barley grain and cut halfway through cooking horizontally, which must be softened by short immersion in water and then seasoned with tomato, olive oil, salt and oregano. Also popular are the “pittule” (or pettule), coarse-shaped pancakes stuffed with turnips, courgette flowers, cod or without filling. Lastly, in pastry shops you can find the very famous, “pasticciotto” from Lecce, the “fruttone”, the “bocche di dama”, the almond paste and the “spumone”.
Salento is therefore suitable for various types of holidays, from the maritime and cultural journey to the food and wine trip, to the naturalistic, religious, sports trip or simply for relaxation and fun.