One of the most fascinating and in many ways the most characteristic and hospitable territories of the Belpaese is the “Tacco d ‘Italia”, the Salento, circumscribed between the Adriatic sea and the Ionian sea.
Included in the territories of the provinces of Lecce, Brindisi and part of that of Taranto, the Salento peninsula is an explosion of colors, tastes, atmospheres and millenary cultures that here have merged giving life to a beautiful land, full of history.
The territory is mostly flat, the “Messapian plain”, with some low hills in the northern part, represented by the “lower Murge” and in the southern one, the “Serre salentine”.
A territory whose humid Mediterranean climate has favored a flourishing agricultural activity for centuries, with a landscape characterized by centuries-old olive trees in plots divided by typical dry-stone walls, inside which the “pajare”, stone buildings more similar to nuraghi, were built. Sardinian that to the typical Apulian trulli present a little more to north.
The Salento was colonized in antiquity by the Messapians, a population of Greek origin, who remained for centuries in conflict with the “cousins” of the ancient Greek-Spartan city of Taranto, who eventually sprouted it, founding some military outposts there.
The arrival of the Romans in Messapia, the “land between the two seas”, brought new roads, new cities and ports, including that of Brindisi, which became particularly important for destinations to Greece and the East.
In medieval times the territory was given in fiefdom by the Lombards and Byzantines, as well as by the Saracens, who settled in the area for more or less long periods.
With the arrival of the Normans, the Salento, which took the name of “Terra d’Otranto”, was further enriched by prestigious centers, including the city of Lecce, which soon became the most important center of the peninsula and seat of the Kingdom of Frederick II of Swabia.
Other cities, such as Brindisi and Oria, were also deeply affected by the changes brought by the Swabians, with the expansion of the existing strongholds and the construction of new defensive structures to combat the increasingly frequent incursions of the Saracens.
While the struggles for power in the territory dominated centuries of success, including wars, destruction, sieges and arranged marriages, under the Aragonese rule the Salento coast was enriched by hundreds of watch towers to prevent the incursions of Turkish pirates, which lasted until to the 1500s.
From this century on, although becoming marginal in the strategies of the Spanish and Bourbon rulers, the Salento experienced a period of flourishing artistic and cultural activity, especially in Lecce, which became one of the most important centers of Italian Baroque.
Even the countryside of the peninsula, although in many of its parts still marshy and malarial, they saw change its rural structure, with the advent of latifundia; the reclamation of the territory with the definitive conquest of land for agriculture will arrive however only during the Fascist period.
Among the main characteristics that identify the land of Salento certainly the most relevant is the architectural landscape, which refers to that of the Greek cities for the absolute predominance of whitewashed houses, without roof, especially in the towns of the countryside and the coast.
The historical centers are instead characterized by the typical Baroque of Lecce, which identifies the external facades of churches and buildings transformed using the typical local stone, with a warm pink yellow color, making them resemble many carved tapestries.
The urban structure of many historic centers of the Salento villages, both maritime and inland, is characterized by white houses leaning against the others, with window and door frames of iridescent colors typical of the Mediterranean area, with narrow alleys where they stand out here and there the “courts”, the noble palaces and the baroque-style churches in stone.
The whole territory is contained by its coasts, wide and sandy above all on the Ionian Sea, with transparent blue waters; the part overlooking the Adriatic is instead more rocky, with spectacular cliffs overlooking the sea.
The stretch of the Salento coast includes numerous centers that are today important seaside resorts, destination of a massif not only Italian tourism that represents one of the most important economic resources of the territory.
Equally important for the economy, but also for the beauty of the landscape, are the expanses of olive trees in the countryside, often centuries-old, inserted among others by the FAI in the list of the hundred Italian places to be saved.
Needless to list the cities of Salento full of charm and artistic beauty, with the risk of forgetting some of them; everywhere you are kidnapped by the beauty of the places and by the atmosphere that reigns there, like the one that is found in the innumerable medieval churches of Basilian age, often containing frescos of remarkable beauty, or like the various castles, towers of sighting and masserie scattered almost everywhere in the Salento area.
Among the many traditions of which the local population is proud, that of the “taranta” or “pizzica” is perhaps the most important; music and dances at frantic and almost hysterical rhythms that conquers the public that, almost always, remains emotionally and “physically” involved.
Rediscovered in recent years, this particular musical form, now devoid of its traditional anthropological connotations, has taken on the dimension of the cultural phenomenon, becoming the most characteristic element of Salentine, almost like a trademark.
The Salento gastronomy is not less, characterized by numerous typical dishes, above all based on fish and vegetables, as well as its great Primitivo di Manduria, Negroamaro and Rosato del Salento wines, as well as the cultivation of olives and therefore the production of oil, which has an ancient tradition.
Many folkloristic initiatives that each country organizes during the year, many of which on the occasion of religious celebrations, loved by a particularly devout population, but also linked to the typical traditions of the Salento area; among the most important ones are the European Film Festival, the Salento Film Festival and the Notte della Taranta, just to name a few, with an extremely important international appeal in terms of number of people and quality of the shows.