Puglia's Ionic coast
A fascinating journey discovering the ancient history and culture of the land of the Messapi.
Capital of the Ionian coast and one of the three geographical summits of Puglia's Salento region, Taranto, "city of the two seas", greets visitors with an intoxicating concoction of past and present.
The third most densely populated continental city in Southern Italy with a large industrial port second only to that of Genoa, Taranto's tourist attractions include the swing bridge, built in the late 19th century to span the navigable ship channel that joins the mar piccolo (little sea) with the mar grande (big sea); the thousand year old Cathedral of S. Cataldo; Giò Ponti's Concattedrale; the Aragonese Castle; the MarTa National Archaeological Museum, where you can see the traces of the city's ancient Greek past; and the tomb of the Athlete of Taranto, discovered in 1959.
Perhaps the best time to visit Taranto is during holy week, when the streets are lined with processions which recall the rituals of the Spanish Catholic tradition and of the Aragon dominion
Approximately 16 kilometers from Taranto, the town of Pulsano is home to some of the area's most interesting archaeological findings.
The ruins in the vicinity of the Castelluccia tower, near to the beach of Lido Silvana, date back to the Bronze Age. The massive Falconibus Castle, dating back to the 15th century, dominates the historic center.
Inhabitants of Pulsano speak the Salentino dialect included in UNESCO's ''Red Book of Endangered Languages''
Made in Manduria
In order to reach Manduria, the leading city of the ancient Messapi Confederation, the Dodecapoli messapica, we travel inland passing through Sava, where the grapes used to produce the highly prized Primitivo di Manduria wine are grown.
In the vicinity of Manduria's megalithic city walls a number of impressive burial grounds have been discovered.
Geographically, Manduria represents the heart of Salento, placed at the center of a triangle created by the provincial capitals of Taranto, Brindisi and Lecce.
Visitors never fail to be struck by the sight of the sea of vineyards where the powerful red Primitivo di Manduria is produced, vineyards interspersed with Salento's typical "Masseria" or farmhouses, many of which have been recently been transformed into attractive farm stays and even 5 star luxury hotels.
Salt of the earth
Within the territory of Manduria, heading south, the Regional Nature Reserve of the Salt Marshes and Dunes of Torre Colimena offers the perfect habitat for aquatic birds and a great variety of botanical species.
The Regional Nature Reserve of the Salt Marshes and Dunes of Torre Colimena is particularly famous for its orchids, many of which risk extinction
The Salina dei Monaci salt marsh is a sandy basin linked to the sea by a narrow channel dug in to the cliffs.
Approximately 28 kilometers from Lecce, Porto Cesareo is one of Salento's most fashionable seaside towns, attracting thousands of tourist each year with its crystal clear waters and important historical sites, such as the Cesarea Tower.
Pearl of wisdom
Gallipoli is the true pearl of Salento. The town is divided into two parts: the citta vecchia and borgo nuovo. The old town stands on an islet of calciferous rock, linked to the main land, and the rapidly expanding new town, by a stone bridge.
The image of the island of Sant' Andrea, and the lighthouse erected here in 1866 is one of those most frequently captured on film.
The holy heel
Santa Maria di Leuca sits on the southernmost tip of Salento. Famous for its marvelous Arabian style villas, since 2006 it has been part of the Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca Coastal Park, a nature reserve created to protect the flora and fauna of the eastern coast of Salento.
The Sanctuary of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae, is linked to the port below by a monumental flight of steps at the bottom of which visitors find the ancient Roman column that marks the end of the Puglian Aqueduct
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