Otranto: Italy’s Combative Gem
As summer weather quickly approaches (finally!), it is only normal to begin daydreaming about the crystalline coasts of Puglia. Full of beautiful beachside towns on both the Adriatic and Ionian seas, an abundance of fresh local foods, and overly hospitable residents, Puglia is still the Italy of our dreams. And inside there remain some truly undiscovered gems, like the port city of Otranto.
Otranto, a city of Greek origin, has been on the radar since ancient times, mainly due to its use as an important port connecting this fertile region to the east. It has been conquered by seemingly everyone, from the Byzantines to the Ottomans, then Romans and the Republic of Naples, all the way up to Napoleon’s Empire. As once you arrive, it’s summery charm mixed with its inherit air of foreboding make for a fascinating contrast on your next holiday.
One of the more scintillating aspects of Otranto is it’s famous Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata. Dating back to 1088, this holy place has certainly seen its share of war and terror, being as constantly conquered and reshaped as its mother city. However, one of the most amazing and well preserved aspects still remains, in the form of the mosaic floor, stretching the length of the Cathedral and recounting tales of the Old Testament and including important figures from history, including King Arthur and Alexander the Great. Of all of the transformations, each conquering culture left this floor intact, including the Turks, as it recounts the stories that are shared by many of the base religions of its conquerors: Catholics, Jews, and Muslims alike.
The farther you delve into this amazing history, the creepier it becomes. For instance, hundreds of skulls and relics remain on display in the back part of the chapel, as a remembrance of the Martyrs of Otranto. And yes, they are all real, and yes, they do give you the heebie jeebies.
While the Cathedral does truly set this town apart in terms of historical and religious significance, Otranto offers a rich tapestry of many different cultures, all inherit in the design and cuisine of this stunning little city. From the Fortress of the city itself and the Aragonese Castle, to the many little shops and restaurants lined along the main streets, to the small pristine beaches complete with big ol rocks to dive off of, Otranto offers something for everyone. And you could still be the first of your friends to discover this amazing southern jewel.