Guide to Otranto, Puglia


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Otranto in Puglia | Think PugliaPub quiz fans may wish to store away the following nugget of trivia: Otranto is Italy's easternmost town.

But it is much more than just that: its mix of history, architecture, views, sea-front restaurants and white sandy beach makes it one of Puglia's most interesting, charming and picturesque towns.

Otranto sits right on the Adriatic sea, gazing out across its eponymous strait towards the Balkans and Greece, a strategic position that has profoundly influenced its history. In Roman times, it became an important commercial port - there was a significant Jewish population of traders - but also a departure point for Roman military expeditions to the east, as testified to by two marble pillar bases recording the transient presence of Emperors Lucio Vero and Marco Aurelio. For a period Otranto even overshadowed Brindisi.

The sack of Otranto

Otranto's east-facing sea-front position, however, also made it susceptible to attacks from across the Adriatic. The most notorious took place on 28th July 1480, when a Turkish fleet of around 150 ships carrying 18,000 soldiers landed to lay siege to the town. The resistance and resilience of the town's folk is stuff of legend but after two weeks of fighting Gedik Ahmed Pasha, the Turkish commander, and his men finally stormed the castle and laid waste to the town and its population. All males over 15 were murdered and the women and children were sold into slavery.

800 survivors barricaded themselves inside the Cathedral with their bishop, Stefano Agricoli, to pray for deliverance. Divine intervention was not forthcoming, however, and they were soon captured. Gedik Ahmed Pasha demanded they renounce their Christian faith and convert to Islam but not one capitulated and their fate was sealed. The unfortunate bishop was cut to pieces and his head paraded round the town on a pike while the others were marched to the hill of Minerva and beheaded.

Years later, in 1771, a Papal decree formally beatified the 800, who became known as the Blessed Martyrs of Otranto.

The town today

Otranto is certainly one of Puglia's most charming towns and is well worth a visit. The imposing castle, thick perimeter walls and robust towers (built after the town was liberated from the Turks in the late 15th century) dominate much of the town, giving way to a small port, a series of sea-front promenades with  excellent fish restaurants and the town's very own beautiful white sandy beach and turquoise waters... 

The delightful Romanesque cathedral, dating back to 1088 and boasting extensive 12th century floor mosaics, is another highlight that should not be missed.


- I Laghi Alimini are 2 interconnected lakes forming an Oasi Naturale just north of Otranto. Home to a wide range of flora and fauna and a popular stopping-off point for numerous species of migratory birds, including black and white herons and flamingos, it is a popular place with nature lovers. Through a process of erosion, the larger lake is connected to the sea and a stretch of beaches accessible only on foot. One such is the beach of Baia dei Turchi, where Gedik Ahmed Pasha and his fleet supposedly landed before attacking Otranto.

-  Punto Palascia (also known as Capo d'Otranto), just to the south of Otranto, is Italy's easternmost point, whose rocky shores and cliffs, stunning sea views, lighthouse and unspoilt landscape make it a great spot for coastal walking.

- Porto Badisco, just to the south of Punto Palascia, is a rocky inlet giving way to a slip of sandy beach and cavernous grottoes. Legend has it that Porto Badisco was where Aeneas first set foot on Italian soil on arrival from Carthage.

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