Visit the surroundings: the different souls of the territory
The Parco delle Querce is at the center of a tourist area that creates attractions 365 days a year. In addition to the nature reserve (see dedicated page) it is possible to discover other naturalistic beauties such as the Ionian-Salento coast of the Gulf of Taranto, which alternates white beaches with rocky, wooded and wild coves as you descend towards the south. We will list schematically only the places reachable around 20/25 minutes of travel (radius of 20 km from your hotel).
MARTINA FRANCA, the noble soul
Remaining in the immediate surroundings the city of Martina Franca (just 11 km from the Tourist Complex), defined as the capital of the Itria Valley, offers a historic center of great historical and artistic interest, full of Baroque style churches, baronial palaces with doors majestic (which show a noble past of the city), the splendid Palazzo Ducale, the many medieval walls that surrounded the city of Angevin foundation and a panorama of the valley as far as the eye can see.
Do not miss the splendid scenery of Piazza del Plebiscito with its world-famous arcades and the Basilica of San Martino, with an imposing façade in Baroque style. The Basilica contains a curiosity, that is, on the right side there are only statues, while the left side is decorated exclusively with paintings. There is also a statue of the Madonna Help of Christians and a Jesus Scourged at the Column from 1622.
In the square there is also the University Palace and the clock tower. Next to the Basilica it is possible to admire the frescoed church of Monte Purgatorio, the ancient seat of the brotherhood of priests dating back to 1649. The interior, with a rectangular hall, offers a ceiling completely painted in tempera reproducing the effect of the hexagonal coffered vaults mixed with Renaissance roses. Inside this church there is one of the most significant works by the Martinese painter, Giovanni Caramia, San Michele Arcangelo with the souls in purgatory. On the main altar the statue of the Beata Vergine delle Grazie in polychrome stone is clearly visible. Upstairs there is the ancient oratory of the brotherhood of priests. The ceiling is entirely covered with boards covered with painted canvas.
Other churches are also interesting and not to be missed, such as that of San Domenico and the adjacent convent. Then again the Church of San Giovanni dei Greci, which has preserved its medieval internal structure (only the facade was rebuilt in the Baroque style during the expansion in the 17th century). Still the Church of San Pietro dei Greci, where the fifteenth-century structure retains the typical covering of the “pignon” roof and the bell gable on the side entrance, typical construction of the Apulian rural churches and the Church of San Nicola in Montedoro, one of the oldest churches in Martina Franca, which offers completely frescoed interior walls.
LOCOROTONDO, the old soul
Just 6 kilometers from Martina, towards the Adriatic, it is impossible not to notice Locorotondo. The town has very ancient roots, certainly the oldest town in the Itria Valley, because it had an important past, testified by the many archaeological remains discovered near the escarpments of via Nardelli (called by the locals “seafront”) and right under the ring road . Here a wall of Messapian origin was discovered which probably defended the ancient city which, like all classical Hellenic cities, had houses in the lower part and the sacred part on the hill. With the end of the Roman Empire the urban fabric moved to the hill (Mount Pennino) where, due to its rounded shape, with the Byzantines but above all with the advent of the Normans, thanks to the fortification, it inherited the name of “Locus rotundus”.
Necessarily, the urban form also had to follow the geomorphological lines of the hill, taking on the “round” appearance even in the construction of the medieval walls which, later, conditioned its expansion and medieval evolution. In the center of the village stands the eighteenth-century Mother Church of San Giorgio, built on the previous church in Gothic-Romanesque style after the year one thousand. Remains of this pre-existing church are still visible, highlighted in the restoration carried out inside the current church through the walkable glass hatches and some local stone tiles with scenes from the old and new testament present in the side altar accompanied by a reproduction of the Last Supper. Also of great historical and artistic interest is the Madonna della Greca church, built around the end of the 15th century (official document 1520) with stone statues of considerable interest, some residual frescoes reproducing a Madonna with child. The structure (the church was extra-moenia) was initially used for the Byzantine liturgy. Among the civil architecture of good appearance, the Baroque-style Palazzo Morelli, the old town hall with the clock tower, the splendid Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, the historic center with particularly pointed roofs called “cummerse” (to be cum-vergere). The characteristic of the town is its almost perfect circumference of the historic center, very white and very clean, with the “balcony” overlooking the Itria Valley.
CRISPIANO, the natural soul
The tourist complex that hosts you belongs to the municipality of Crispiano. The city is known above all for being the “country of a hundred farms”, scattered in an area rich in greenery (more and more wooded as you rise in altitude) and agricultural land in the flatter part. But the masseria remains the predominant feature of the city in the province of Taranto, together with the many caves and underground sites that in the past also hosted entire communities, as well as being used as warehouses, stables and often also as places of worship and contemplation, since from the arrival of the Basilian monks.
The farms were already known in Roman and Greek times. They were farms where the “masses of fatigue” worked. Hence the name “massariciae” which could give life to large residential settlements, in the center of large plots of land and above all enclosed around a well, a spring, a cave. With the inevitable Christianity it became the community chapel, for the use of the farm. They often then gave life to real inhabited centers such as the villae.
Crispiano rises around the karst furrow called Vallone, inhabited since prehistoric times, and during the Middle Ages the Abbey of Santa Maria di Crispiano was located in this valley, already attested in January 1226; at a very short distance there was also the Crispiani farmhouse, attested for the first time in 1269 in an Angevin document attesting its depopulation. Other small early medieval settlements were the Sancti Simini farmhouse in the homonymous Vallone, where the hamlet of San Simone stands today and further east the Ciliani farmhouse, depopulated in 1309, but which were characterized by not very numerous communities.
Starting from the seventeenth century, the Vallone caves were repopulated in an increasingly stable and continuous form, so much so as to give (or restore) life to the farms that we can still admire today. Some also of considerable size and historical-architectural interest, consisting of a community church and often also with imposing walls so as to seem real castles or fortified towns.
MASSAFRA, the rupestrian soul
At 16 kilometers from the Park it is also possible to visit Massafra, perched on a rocky slope and which gives its name to its “plain” which descends towards the Gulf of Taranto. The name of the town should derive from “Man-sapris” (grotesque environment of hermits). In past centuries, the city has also been referred to as the ancient Messapia reported many centuries earlier by Pliny the Elder, although this theory is not supported by other documentary and historical references. The first agglomeration, however, should date back to the Byzantine era, which took up the ancient Hellenic community Mασαύρα. The city acquired the appearance of a fortified castrum with the Normans, in fact after its conquest it was granted to Riccardo Senescalco, son of Drogone Altavilla, passing under the diocese of Mottola. He fortified the town by building and restoring the castle and in 1080 he donated the church of Santa Lucia, with the adjoining monastery, and the third part of the fishing that was done annually in the Patemisco river to the territorial abbey of the Santissima Trinità di Cava de ‘Tirreni .
The city offers many churches, especially of rock origin, which tell of an ancient history where “living in the cave” (or the cave) was not an exception. Its geographical position, the geological composition of the rock, as well as the blades, the ravines dug by the rivers over the centuries (it is also called Terra delle Gravine) and the many natural caves, have been the natural habitat for both animals and for man. The use of these sites for religious use is attested by numerous rock churches, frescoed and decorated in Byzantine style, which testify to the Basilian monastic presence since their appearance in southern Italy. There are about 30 rock sites of some interest, and many other minor sites scattered throughout the area.
Among the ravines, the ravine of the Madonna della Scala is worth a visit, 4 km long, 40 meters deep and up to 50 meters wide. It starts from the crossroads of the provincial road between Martina Franca and Noci and, touching the town, ends almost at the confluence of the Appian Way. Inside is the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Scala and over 200 residential areas of the original village. The northern part is called “Capo di Gravina”, followed by the so-called “Valle Delle Rose” which extends to the west of the town, once called Vallis Rosarum due to the rich spontaneous vegetation that covers the entire bed of the ancient Patemisco river. . There are many varieties of plants. At the southern end, called “Gravina di Calìtro”, there is the seventeenth-century sanctuary of the Madonna di Tutti le Grazie and the remains of three rock churches: Santa Maria Maddalena, Santa Parasceve and Sant’Eustachio.
Other prestigious places that can be visited:
from 30 to 40 minutes by car it is possible to visit the splendid and ancient city of Taranto, but also Cisternino, Alberobello, Ostuni, Mottola and the Zoo Safari of Fasano. From 40 to 70 minutes by car you can visit Monopoli and Polignano a Mare moving towards the Adriatic, Oria in the Brindisi area, or move to Matera, another city that would be worth a visit and that needs no introduction, as well as the capital of the Baroque, or Lecce.