Hidden tresaures in Salento

The Cathedral of Otranto has a spectacular mosaic floor depicting biblical scenes and medieval epic cycles in the tree of Life, but it isn’t the only example. Almost surprisingly, Salento, the southernmost area of Puglia, reveals other Romanesque buildings, hidden treasures alongside the baroque splendor of other churches and palaces.

In Galatina, the Greek area of Salento, the Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, which overlooks a small square, has a simple facade with three cusps, and two lions that seem to control the main entrance. At the end of the XIV century, after returning from the Holy Land, where he had visited the monastery of St. Catherine, on Mount Sinai, Raimondo Del Balzo Orsini began to build. The church hosted Franciscan monks sent by Pope Boniface IX to Latinize Salento, where the Greek rite was still practiced.

Once your eyes have accustomed themselves to the dark, after the blinding sun outside, they will be amazed by the frescoes that cover every inch of the three naves and the counter. The reason behind this masterpiece was Maria d’Enghien, the widow of Raimondo who became the Queen of Naples marrying Ladislaus of Anjou. She called artists from Tuscany, Emilia, Marche, and according to some critic’s opinions, also from France. Giotto’s paintings constitute an evident inspiration and influence for the stories of the Genesis and the Apocalypse, as we’ll as in the episodes of the New Testament which are depicted. 

A countryside of low vineyards, olive groves, dry stone walls and furnieddhi (rural stone buildings in the shape of a truncated cone) built up stone by stone, leads to Santa Maria delle Cerrate. Built by Basilian monks in the XII century, it has been recently  restorated and is currently managed by the FAI. The front has a small rosette in the center, a lancet on each side and a portal with reliefs of the Annunciation, the Visitation to St. Elizabeth, the Magi and the flight into Egypt. The three internal naves, were once completely covered with frescoes, some of which have been misassembled .

Different direction, though with similar olive groves, leads to Brindisi and to the two-tone stone church of Santa Maria del Casale. Erected at the end of XIII century over a chapel where Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have prayed on his return from the Holy Land. This building has a single and bright nave, with walls covered with frescoes, on the counter is the Giudizio Finale by Rinaldo da Taranto, whereas on the right side, the Tree of the Cross with the Christ at the center.

The church is almost incorporated by Brindisi Casale airport (that is placed a few hundred meters away) and it is therefore hard to believe that the place was once so pleasant and that the Brindisi archbishops built here their summer residence.