Guide to Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia


“From the eastern sea,
Curving in an arc,
The thick foaming waves break
Against their opposing rocky masses.
Hidden from sight,
Sheltered behind its double seawalls,
Lies the internal port,
                                                    From where the hilly land rises
                                                   Towards the far-off temple.”

So wrote Virgil in the 3rd book of The Aeneid, describing the hero's approach to the Japigo promontory, home to Leuca... 

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As Virgil intimates, Santa Maria di Leuca sits on the southernmost tip of the Salento peninsula where the waters of the Adriatic Sea mingle and merge with those of the Ionian. A popular resort for wealthy Puglians since the early 1900s, as testified to by the eye-catching Art Nouveau villas that line the seafront, Leuca has all the necessary attributes for a quintessential Mediterranean holiday.

Apart from Virgil's description, Leuca has long been mentioned in the annals of history: Thucydides, Sallustius, Strabo and Horace all mentioned the town in historical and literary contexts, while documents attest to St. Peter sojourning there on his way to Rome.

The town’s name comes from the Greek Leukos, meaning light or luminous, while the appendage of Santa Maria refers specifically to the religious sanctuary built on a site high above the harbour, once home to a Temple of Minerva. Legend has it that the temple crumbled to the ground as St. Peter passed through…

The sanctuary, also known as the Basilica De Finibus Terrae (Leuca was where the land ended for the Romans), was consecrated by Pope Julius I on 1st August 343 AD. It has long been a place of pilgrimage and is particularly busy around the middle of August each year.

On 14th August the statue of the Virgin is collected from the sanctuary and taken to the Church of Cristo Re, where she remains for the night. On 15th August, the Catholic festival of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the statue is paraded through the streets and down to the port. Here it is placed on board a specially festooned fishing boat which, accompanied by a flotilla of well-wishers, chugs across the sea to the port of San Gregorio and back. Once the statue is safely back in the sanctuary, it is time for the fireworks and general partying to begin.

The sandy beaches at nearby Felloniche, Posto Vecchio, Torre Vado and Pescoluse are excellent for families and well-equipped with lidos, bars, restaurants and other facilities...

Not far from the sanctuary is the impressive lighthouse, built in 1864 on the site of a 16th century watchtower. Its octagonal form rises 47 metres into the sky (over 100m above sea level) and contains a winding staircase of 254 steps. Still in function, it is one of Leuca’s most impressive landmarks.

While on the theme of engineering feats, Leuca is also home to a monumental man-made waterfall, built to signal the end of the Puglia aqueduct. Started in mid-19th century, the aqueduct took an age to complete and only arrived in Leuca, its final destination, in 1941.

Mussolini was a great proponent of project (the longest aqueduct in Europe) and ordered the construction of a suitably showy finale: the mouth of the aqueduct is built into a bridge at the top of the Japigo promontory and a waterway of rocks falls away below, flanked on either side by 300 steps. Standing proudly to attention at the bottom is a Roman column, transferred, on Mussolini’s orders, from the capital to Leuca. The cascade is opened only a few times a year, so is not to be missed if you’re lucky enough to be in the area at the right time.

But Santa Maria di Leuca is also, and perhaps principally, about the sea. The sandy beaches at nearby Felloniche, Posto Vecchio, Torre Vado and Pescoluse are excellent for families and well-equipped with lidos, bars, restaurants and other facilities, while the more dramatic stretches of coastline, as described by Virgil, feature rocky cliffs pierced with around 30 Karstic grottoes. The best way to truly these fascinating geological formations is by boat and there is no shortage of local sailors ready to take you out to sea off the coast where the world ends!

These are just a few of the many attractions of Santa Maria di Leuca! To find out more, book a villa near Santa Maria di Leuca and experience the lot!

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