Grecia Salentina is a griko-speaking area in the peninsula of Salento. As the name itself suggests, Grecia Salentina has strong influences testified by the Byzantine-style frescoes in its ancient churches and by the survival of a dialect known as “griko”which is spoken in eleven towns: Calimera, Carpignano Salentino, Castrignano dei Greci, Corigliano d'Otranto, Cutrofiano, Martano, Martignano, Melpignano, Soleto, Sternatia e Zollino.
The name of this town leaves us in no doubt as to its Greek origins. Indeed this one of the places in the Salento area where a dialect that can be traced back to the land of its ancient fathers survives. Another historical reminder is the Funerary Stele kept in a small aedicule in the public garden: found in a suburb of Athens, it was returned to Italy by the Greek capital in 1960, as a reminder of the common ancestry. The Museo Civico di Storia Naturale del Salento has sections in natural history, paleontology, botany, ornithology and malacology (the study of mollusc shells). The town which is known for its turtle-tagging activities, also does much wildlife protection work, saving and nurturing sick animals until they are ready to return to their natural habitat.
The greek origins of this little town are testifying by the ancient frescoes and writings on the walls of the Crypt of Saint Cristina and Marina, in Largo Madonna delle Grazie. Not far from here is the Ancient Palazzo Orsini Del Balzo which is full of baroque decorations. We will visit “La Torre Colombaia” which is a tower used to rear pigeon.
CASTRIGNANO DEI GRECI
The town of Castrignano dei Greci , whose greek origins are spelt out in its name, also once had a 16th -century baronial castle, but now there are only few scant ruins. In this town we will visit “Parco Pozzelle” which was an ingenious system to gather rain waters.
Corigliano d’Otranto is one of the main towns in Grecia Salentina where the Byzantine rite survive until 1683. The 18th century parish church of Saint Nicola has an elaborately – sculptured Renaissance portal (16th century) and an unfinished belltower, built in 1465 in imitation of the one in Soleto. The Baroque Palazzo Comi in Saint Nicola’s Square has a fine, long balcony. Not far away is the so-called Arco Lucchetti, a stone arch elaborated with Byzantine, classical and Islamic decoration (1497), incorporated into the wall of a house at the beginning of Vico Freddo. Important in this town is the Castello de’ Monti, rebuilt in the 16th century with four corner towers, and transformed in 1667 with the addition of a baroque façade.
This town is very important for its production of local vases in terracotta. Connecting to this we can visit the Museo Comunale della Ceramica.
Martano is the biggest town of Grecia Salentina. The old centre is named “La Terra”. It has a medieval structure, in fact the old centre is surrounded by walls towers and the castle which is the main attraction in the town. During our walking tour we can notice a lot of noble palaces - Pala
Martignano is a small town. Here we can visit the 17th century Palazzo Palmieri and two remarkable altars by Giuseppe Cino in the Baroque Church of Saint Pantaleo.
In the norther part of the town we can visit the Augustinian Monastery which has a fine 16th century cloister. 17th century architecture includes the Palazzo Marchesale and the Church of the Carmine, by Lecce architect Giuseppe Zimbalo.
In this small town we will notice that there are a lot of masterpieces. The first one will be the belltower of the Collegiate Church of Saint Maria Assunta. A legend narrates that four devils built in a night the so-called Raimondello Spire. The belltower, a masterpiece of late-Gothic architecture in southern Italy, is the main legacy of the golden age of Salento which under the seignory of the Orsini-Del Balzoreached the height of its splendor and prestige as the “capital” of a huge country. But the discovery of a necropolis with ancient inscriptions confirmed its Messapian origins. In fact, from the early Middle Ages until the late 16th century it was an important centre of the Italo-Greek religious and cultural tradition of the area that later had known as Grecia Salentina. In the oldest part of the town we will notice the Church of Saint Stefano, one of the places in the 16th century where language and church services were exclusively in Greek. This little church has an interesting façade which blends Gothic elements. Frescoes from different periods cover the walls of the simple interior. The most interesting paintings are those in the small apse with the Descent of the Holy Ghost to the Virgin and the Apostles and a rare image of the Adolescent Christ. The Last Judgment, on the wall behind the façade includes the figures of the twelve apostles. This composition is divided into two parts by archangel Michael: to his right are the elect who have ascended to Heaven, to his left are the damned with a complex representation of sins and their corresponding punishment in Hell.
This small town founded bi the Greeks, retained the Byzantine rite until 1661. near the Baroque parish Church of Assunta stands Palazzo Granafei, a fortified residence built in the 18th century by local marquises and remodelled in 19th century. The Town Hall is the former Dominicians Monastery, a 17th century building with Baroque church. An interesting underground oil-press can be seen near Porta Fidia, all that remains of the 15th century walss around the town. Older is the crypt of Saint Sebastiano. This ancient place of worship is divided in two by a central pillar. There are traces of frescoes, including a Trinity above the main altar and three images of the Christian martyr.