Puglia: the land of olive trees, masserie, grand cathedrals and Baroque cities
“Puglia is located in the ‘heel’ of the boot of Italy, and is one of the most welcoming regions of the country. Nestled between two beautiful seas, the Ionian and the Adriatic, Puglia was one of the first landing places of the Greeks, and has served as a strategic point of departure for the Romans embarking to Greece. Once the land of the Byzantines, Puglia was later an important territory of the Kingdom of Naples, for which it supplied abundant food from its fertile fields.”
Bona Frescobaldi, International Chairman
James M. Carolan, President
We began our trip at Masseria Carestia, a farmhouse complex designed and built from scratch. This masseria is considered the most monumental of the region and was originally completed in 1754, after 23 years of effort by the Archdeacon Tommaso Massari. Masseria Carestia is considered a state-of-the-art agricultural complex. Our delightful host, Signori Massari, treated us to dinner and cocktails in the garden in front of the residence.
The following day, we had a wonderful tour of Castel del Monte. One of the finest castles in Europe, Castel del Monte is famous for its octagonal structure. Its geometric harmony is created through eight 25 meter octagonal towers. Stylistically, it can be said to coincide with the beginnings of Gothic architecture in Southern Italy, influenced by the presence of the Romanesque and Arabic-Norman cultures.
Then we visited the San Nicola Pellegrino cathedral, a Romanesque cathedral next to the sea. Next to the cathedral was the Castello di Trani, a 1233 castle converted into a museum now open to the public. There we saw featured artist, Brian Eno, and his exhibition “Light Music” where combinations of moving lights and music create a state of trance and meditation. He was incredible.
The next day, we visited Valle d’Itria. The Itria valley lies in the heart of the country region and is famous for the Trulli, quadrangular constructions rooted in ancient “Puglian” tradition. They have a conic roof, which is composed of tiles stacked upward and downward and were presumably inspired by the Greeks. The interior is typically white washed and the trulli are interlinked side by side.
That night we enjoyed an early dinner at Masseria Tagliente with Carlo and Simonetta Fumarola, two prominent lawyers and our gracious hosts for the evening. The property at Masseria Tagliente was built in 1842 and extends for about 185 acres. The building marks the moment of transition when master farms lost the distinguishing marks of rural constructions.
We began the next day at Castello Dentice di Frasso in San Vito dei Normanni with Giuliano Dentice di Frasso. Kept in the castle is an interesting collection of photographs from the early 1900’s illustrating the refined and cosmopolitan lifestyle enjoyed by the Princes of Frasso. Then we visited Lecce, a Messapian settlement after existing as a Greek town and the Roman Lupiae. Today, the old town of Lecce, with its small squares and winding streets, owes its distinctive charm to the richly decorated Baroque architecture. Sandstone of warm golden hue makes up local buildings, a style generally known as barocco leccese. We hung around and had coffee at Piazza Sant’Oronzo in Lecce.
The following day, we visited the Church of Santa Caterina in Galatina. Galatina is one of the more populous cities on the Salentine peninsula and the Franciscan church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria reflects the wealth and influence of the town’s feudal lords, the Orsini barons. The interior is remarkable for its construction and decorative scheme. On the walls and in the vault, numerous frescoes illustrate the Old and New Testaments and provide insight into the nature of feudal life in Puglia. Right outside the church was a couple that had gotten married inside the church.
At Castello di Depressa, we had lunch with Baroni Winspeare where we were greeted with a band. The castle of Depressa is situated between the town’s main square and the Winspeares’ beautiful gardens. Originally built as a fort in 1360, it was destroyed during the Turkish invasion of 1480. In 1867, Antonio Winspeare received the castle of Depressa and other properties in Salento through dowry after marrying Emma Gallone, a wealthy Pugliese princess. Antonio channeled his talents into Depressa, planting vineyards and transforming the rambling old castello into a graceful country home for his family. Lunch was beyond fabulous.
Lunch the last day was amazing. We ate at Villa Sticchi in Santa Cesarea with Signori Sticchi. The villa is one of the most famous expressions of the Moresque style which is very unusual there. It was a widespread influence in the 19th century in the rich seaside resorts of Salento.
The generosity and hospitality of the wonderful aristocracy of the area was overwhelming. This trip was organized for members of the Balbianello Circle by Friends of FAI, an American nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster in the United States a deeper appreciation of and support for the preservation of buildings and properties of architectural and environmental significance located in the Republic of Italy. Friends of FAI recognizes the artistic, architectural, historical and environmental heritage of Italy as an international resource of priceless value. Arrivederci until next year! I can’t wait!