Otranto: A History of Sieges, Saints & Survival

November 3, 2014 / Places
Otranto, Puglia

Otranto is a charming seaside town near the very tip of Italy’s heel in southern Puglia. Like Gallipoli and Ostuni, Otranto had the dubious distinction of being strategically located for foreign invasions of Italy and Europe.

Otranto - Victoria De Maio

The Castello Aragonese, a castle in the center of town and overlooking Otranto’s port, was built in the late 15th century by the Aragonese to defend the town and Otranto has managed to survive despite its particularly vulnerable location at the easternmost point of the peninsula of Italy.

Otranto - Victoria De Maio

Ruled by the Greeks, Lombards and Byzantines, it eventually passed to the Pope only to be attacked and eventually fall under the rule of the Normans. In 1480, Otranto was attacked and almost completely annihilated by the Turks who transported and beheaded 800 of the townsfolk to a nearby hill for refusing to deny their faith.

Otranto was one of four stops on the road to Jerusalem for pilgrims. The cathedral, completed in the 12th century, is known for its beautiful Baroque portal, fine rose window and magnificent interior.

Otranto - Victoria De Maio

The cathedral is significant for two other reasons, one of which is its precious 12th century mosaic floor, reputed to be the largest mosaic in Europe. Completed in an astonishing two years by a monk, it includes the ‘tree of life’ with intertwining Norman, Greek and Byzantine designs as well as fascinating animals, images and words whose meaning are still being studied and deciphered to this day.

Otranto - Victoria De Maio
Otranto - Victoria De Maio

The other reason this cathedral is a sacred destination is the chapel where the skeletal remains of the 800 townspeople are encased in glass walls. It is a moving experience and only last year were they canonized by Pope Francis (May 2013).

Characterized today by ancient walls and crystal clear waters, the only invaders are the tourists who come to enjoy Otranto’s seaside charm as well as its superb seafood and shopping.

Otranto - Victoria De Maio

More Photos:

Otranto - Victoria De Maio
Otranto - Victoria De Maio

Otranto - Victoria De Maio

Victoria De Maio

by Victoria De Maio

Victoria is a lover of all things Italian! A travel advisor, blogger, writer, tour leader, and published author, she is passionate about traveling to and writing about Italy.

Her book, Victoria’s Travel Tipz Italian Style, is available on Amazon.

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10 Responses to “Otranto: A History of Sieges, Saints & Survival”

  1. Gian Banchero

    Thank you Victoria for the article and beautiful photos. Until today I’ve known nothing about Puglia’s Otranto nor the Turkish atrocity when the townsfolk resisted leaving their faith.

    Reply
  2. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    With every visit to Otranto I find something new, you pointed me to a few things missed…Thank you again for another great note ,Vittoria

    Reply
  3. Art Selikoff

    Thank you, Victoria, for a great article. I have a question: is Otranto a good city for an 85 year old American, who cannot walk too well, to retire? Or can you suggest another near the water and in southern Italy, and not too expensive? What do
    think of Ischia? Many thanks, Victoria.

    Reply
  4. Mairin O'Mahony

    Walking on the cathedral floor is like stepping on the Bayeux tapestry. And don’t forget to look up at the marvelous ceiling.

    Reply
  5. Anne Robichaud

    Victoria, your note reminded me that we are overdue for a return visit to Otranto – and oh………that floor! Mille grazie for the “nudge”

    Reply
  6. Charmaine

    I sailed on a ship from England to Australia on the S.S.Otranto in 1950. I suppose it got its name from this town. Interesting.

    Reply
  7. Mike Dudley

    Victoria
    Fascinating place and a fascinating story.
    The very first “Gothic Novel” in the English language (so predating Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe etc) was written by Horace Walpole in 1764 and was entitled “The Castle of Otranto”. In the first edition Walpole claimed it to be a translation of a medieval Italian text but in the second and subsequent editions he admitted his own authorship. The novel is set in the 11th to 13th centuries and is full of romance , murder and incest — so if the real castle was not built until 1529 that in itself proves it to be fiction. Just some added interest to a place which is clearly full of it.

    Reply
  8. Rosanne Barrett

    When I first started studying Art History (1965), one of our first assignments was to read “The Castle of Otranto”, just to get a feeling for the era and the place!

    Reply
    • To address you individually!
      Rosanne: Maybe it’s time for a visit? :D
      Art: It’s a lovely place & easy to navigate, close to lots of interesting places in Puglia. I haven’t visited Ischia (want to) but it’s an island….so… Let me know what you decide!
      Mairin – OH you are so right – lovely!
      Ann – Yes, a revisit is always rewarding!
      Gian & Giuseppe – Grazie voi for reading & commenting

      LOVE sharing with all of you!

      Reply
  9. Grazie to all of you for your comments! I love sharing about these (for now!) lesser know gems of Italy. This was my second visit and I’m already looking forward to returning and learning more next spring.
    Victoria

    Reply

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