Gallipoli and Taranto


We stopped for a short visit in Gallipoli, a peninsula jutting into the sea, known for its old town, sandy beaches, The founding history is not clear, but suggests occupation by Cretes and Gauls, preceded by native peoples. The earliest written records show it was a city in ancient Greek times; they still speak a Greek dialect alongside Italian. Sacked by the Vandals and Goths, it later became part of the Byzantine Empire, then following the same general occupation history as the rest of the area, from Naples to Sicily.

Gallipoli, the port via google earth
Gallipolis’ port from Google earth
gallipolii street
On the streets of the old town in Gallipoli


After driving to the very tip of the heel of the boot, we headed north to Taranto, still on the Ionic Sea, through areas laden with vineyards, the grapes leaves just sprouting into the crisp early spring air. In earlier times workers in these vineyards, when stung by the Wolf spider, hopped about with the pain. From this developed a dance called the Tarantella, the Italian word for ‘tarantula,’ performed to this day. I could see them doing the dance in these lush fields, prancing about the short, gnarly grape plants.

Taranto was founded by the 8th century Spartans. It came to be a powerful city, home to philosophers, writers and athletes. By circa 500 BCE it was populated by some half million people, a huge number for that epoch. It is served by a large natural port that the Italian navy made its home in both WWI and WWII.

We have been staying in private apartments during this trip. This is quite a bit less expensive than hotels and there are kitchens. Or so they say. Here the apartment was divided in two. Although in the description it said there was kitchen access, in this otherwise lovely apartment the kitchen was not accessible to us. It is in a separate area which consisted of the kitchen with a bed in it. Not knowing it was occupied, one of us opened the door, to the surprise of another set of guests. Another oddity- in our area there were two bedrooms. The bathroom was accessible only from one of the bedrooms.

The lovely dining/living room area was shared with the kitchen occupants, though they never came there. The staff brought breakfast to us there: an excellent croissant, orange juice from those bright red oranges, and espresso, cafe latte or cappuccino. Here cappuccino seldom has anything to do with chocolate shavings, just steamed milk. Being too milky for my taste, I stick with the espresso. In Italy the espresso has very little water so it is quite strong. The other variations, cafe latte and cappucino, have the same amount of coffee, and thus the same amount of caffeine, contrary to what many believe and counter intuitive, given the strong flavor of espresso.

The best thing about our place is its location. It is about 10-15 minutes to the port and about the same to the modern center, where the Semana Santa processions take place starting the next day, Friday, and ending on Sunday.

marina Taranto
The port in Taranto

Taranto old town
Walking through the old town
Taranto statue to mariners
Statue to Mariners, Tartano

Along the port in the old town the buildings are decrepit and mostly unoccupied. Many buildings are closed entirely, their windows and doors concreted shut. Others have occupants in buildings whose facades have not been kept up for decades if not centuries. Many businesses have long since moved elsewhere. One of the locals told us that the area is up for a complete face lift.

We eventually found a trattoria open for lunch. Attractively decorated and just a few meters from the sea, over-populated with staff who hover about, they served up some mighty fine seafood dishes.

mussels with pasta
Mussels with short tube pastas in a soupy but flavorful tomato based sauce
mussles orchiette
Mussels with orecchiette

They had a number of contorni (vegetable side dishes) on offer. They had this agro-dulce (sweet and sour) red onion dish so we gave it a try. A bit too agro-dulce for my taste.

onion contorno

They served a lovely dry white wine made from the Falangina, an ancient grape (5€). The wine in this region is very good. Puglia currently has 33 regulated wine regions, mostly concentrated in Salento, at the very heel of Italy’s boot. Most are red, encouraged by the hot dry climate, but there are some good whites as well, somewhat surprising as whites generally do better in cooler climates. This is why Germany, Belgium and the Alsace region of France produce far more white than red.

We are in Taranto during Holy Week celebrations. The night before the events started on the Friday we watched as two men in robes walked in the cold night without shoes. The next day they carried heavy crosses along with others, normally clad, accompanied by good brass bands playing dirges.

hooded characters
Semana Santa procession on Sunday evening

I have been to much more somber such events in Spain, though the shoe-less bit and the face covers are an interesting touch. It is quite cold so it can not be fun walking like this. The point is to suffer, in the imitation of Christ. Among Catholics there are still known instances of even more extreme self-inflicted pain, to this day. See this BBC report on Opus Dei

The crowd paid little attention to the procession, despite the gory statues, the somber shoe-less figures and the booming dirges. With the exception of the comparative few lining the path, the rest of the crowd was there to meet friends, have a drink and something to eat. I was not sure what to expect, given the holiday, but not given the 25% observance rate (they remain Catholics but do not pay much attention to religion) you find among the otherwise predominantly Roman Catholic country. See extensive statistics at

For a light dinner we twice visited a neat little bar called Don Crudo on Via XX Settembre. Our first choice for this evening was full. Don Crudo and staff were happy to see us. They make an excellent pinsa with a wide selection and piadini, thin hot sandwiches with much the same choice of ingredients. Pinsa, if you are not already familiar with it, it is a pizza dough that rises for 24 hours. This creates a very airy and crusty result.

Piadino (singular), piadini (plural)
Pinsa (singular), pinse (plural)

T’was a fine ending to another chilly outing. We weaved our way through the crowd for the ten minute walk home in the chilly night air.

Lecce: A Baroque city with a long past

Puglia plaza
Piazza del Duomo

Dating from the time of Jesus, Lecce features extensive baroque architecture, uniformly made with Lecce stone. Lecce stone is a kind if limestone, still a main export because it is easily worked.

lecce church2
Chiesa San Matteo
lecce church
lecce gate
Main gate of Lecce

Like so many locations in Italy, Lecce sits on a treasure trove of artifacts, which Museo Faggiano clearly illustrates. The museum is located in a house owned by the Faggiano family. We were met at the door by the oldest son Andrea. His father Luciano bought it in 2000 for the purpose of opening a trattoria. Following reports of a leak he looked for a broken sewer line. Down he dug until he began to unearth pottery, coins, toys, a bishop’s ring and other artifacts from the middle ages back to prehistoric times.

He hid his activity from his wife, not wanting her to know that he was lowering his then 12 year old son deep into pits to dig. The dirty clothes eventually gave him away. They carted off the dirt by surreptitiously putting it in their car and hauling it to their farm. Neighbors eventually noticed, and reported the activity to the city government. The family spent the next 10 years uncovering artifacts and structures under the supervision of the town’s archaeologists, whom they’d been unable to avoid, humorously portrayed a Andrea as “you work, you pay, we just watch and take what you find.” The discoveries are now in the local museum, largely still in boxes.

We learned from that in the 14th to the 15th centuries the building was a Franciscan convent, inhabited in the middle of the 12th century by a Templar community as they prepared to invade the Middle East. The structures we see to this day were built on foundations from the Messapic (pre-Roman) era. We know little about these presumably indigenous peoples.

faggiano 1

The house is now attractively arranged with multiple livable rooms. On the roof there are views of the surrounding buildings, flat roofs with sharp angles, tubes for this and that, and jutting trees.

faggiano 1
View from the roof of the museum

Afterwards we had lunch at a delightful by the slice place. You pay by the weight, not yours, but that of the pizza. There is a price list on the wall. You pay more for more expensive toppings. There is beer and wine. The crust is light and crunchy., a real pleasure of a place in a hole in the wall joint with wooden chairs and tables, and a pleasant woman deftly slicing pizza with scissors.

lecce pizza 2
Pizza by the slice

As you walk from one area in town to another you find art treasures as well as more architectural gems. These metal sculptures are among my favorites.

lecce scultp 2
lecce sculpt jazz band
lecce sculpt

That night we found another trattoria, sampling more local specialties, the best of this place being the bread crumb stuffed mussels.

stuffed mussels
Stuffed mussels