Among the destinations to see during our trip in Salento is Nardò, the second largest city by population in the province of Lecce, with almost 32,000 inhabitants and 190 square kilometers of territory. Important Byzantine center, Nardò later became the main cultural center of Salento. Like Lecce and Gallipoli, the Baroque imprint is still visible today, with dozens of churches within the historic center that are absolutely worth visiting.
Its only hamlet, Santa Maria al Bagno, is 7.5 km from the city center. Its territory extends from the Montagna Spaccata, going up towards the North and meeting seaside resorts of excellence such as Santa Caterina, Sant’Isidoro and Porto Selvaggio.
Nardò also becomes important for its civil architecture, which presents evidence of the cultural value of the city such as the University Palace and the Municipal Theater, the latter built in the late nineteenth century, designed by the engineer Quintino Tarantino.
The first settlements in Nardò they date back to the VIII-III century BC when it was a center of the ancient civilization of the Messapi and was called Nerito. Later, under the Romans, it became Neretum. At that time, the current Santa Maria al Bagno, elected seaside resort because of the Emporium Naunia, was very important. We are in the III century B.C. and the ancient Neretum was crossed by the famous Via Traiana.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city became of Byzantine domination and in that period its cultural and artistic value grew. Over the centuries, Nardò first passed to the Normans, then to the Angevins, but the Byzantine imprint remained strong, so much so that for three centuries at least they resisted Greek language and liturgy.
Only after the Council of Trent, was that ritual suppressed.In 1497 the fiefdom of Nardò was assigned to Andrea Matteo Acquaviva. Under the strong imprint of his son, the duke Belisario, humanist and patron of the city, Nardò increased the cultural imprint. The possession of the Acquavivas lasted until the early 19th century, when feudalism disappeared. The long domination of the family also had dark moments, characterized by episodes of disconcerting repression. Among the most illustrious personalities to whom Nardò was born or who “adopted” and we remember we remember Antonio De Ferraris, called Galateo, and Ruggero Pazienza, author of the “Balzino”.
To the first, in particular, we owe the drafting of the volume ‘De situ Japigiae’, which is considered the oldest guide of Salento. In the historic center of Nardò the Baroque imprint is still visible today, starting from the very refined Piazza Salandra, to then get lost among the dozens of churches, which bear witness to how since the XV century. the city was a bishopric. In the main square, we find the Spire of the Immaculate of the fifteenth century, the Palazzo di città, the Sedile. Among the places of worship that must be absolutely visited, the Church of San Domenico, the Church of San Trifone, the Church of Sant’Antonio and the Osanna monument near Porta San Paolo. This is a baroque monument, octagonal in shape, entirely built in Lecce stone.
The castle, on the other hand, was built at the turn of the 16th and 16th centuries, under Giovanni Antonio Acquaviva of Aragon in the Pittagio Sant’Angelo area. Previously, a castle already existed, donated in 1271 by the Lord of Nardò Filippo di Tuziaco of Angevin abstraction to the Franciscan community of Minor Conventuals.
The current building, home of the Dukes of Acquaviva d’Aragona, is characterized by mighty almond-shaped towers. In the visit to the historic center of Nardò, the imposing Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral, the University Palace and the Achille Vergari Municipal Library. The latter, donated to the Church in the nineteenth century by the doctor from whom it takes the how, is rich in twenty-one thousand volumes of scientific, philosophical and theological character. Subsequently it became a municipal property.
In addition, during and after the Second World War, hundreds of Jews were welcomed and hidden in Nardò, fleeing towards Palestine: their passage is witnessed by a Murales located in a small unsafe house. Finally, a mandatory step is the one in Cenate, where there are about twenty historic villas set in a context of secular gardens. Most of these buildings were built between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, but some are from the earlier period.