Brindisi: archeology and architecture

Fasano Egnazia Brindisi
Fasano Egnazia

Archeology, casket of the memory
The archeological wealth represents one of the most important elements of historic interest of this land wholly to discover.

The geographic position and the favorable climatic conditions made this part of Puglia and ideal place for the human settlement even from the most remote ancient times.

Among sea, hills and ancient suburbs there is an extraordinary archeological way, a precious casket that sometimes comes out, revealing to the visitor’s astonished look and to the scholar’s careful interest fragments or more consistent signs, dumb and yet eloquent of a millenary history.

In the land of Brindisi every town looks after an archeological site, finds scattered among the olive groves leaning to the ancient farms, hidden under the floors of the churches, squares and places that methodical excavations or, in some cases, fortuitous finding bring back to light.

A long-winded documentation that in the luckiest cases concentrates on real archeological parks. In Fasano, on a coast “deeply tormented by very limpid waters” there is the archeological site of Egnatia, ancient “messapica” town and then roman “municipium” celebrated by the immortal verses of Orazio.

The walls, the forum, the structures of the amphitheatre, the residences, the “basiliche”, the ruins of the Traiana Way testify and tell the history of the ancient settlement that, among different events, survives until the X century. Attached to the park, the national archeological museum contains and looks after the precious finds: sculptures, funeral equipments, coins, jewels and in particular the pottery here produced and called “gnathia”.

The archeological itinerary in the land of Brindisi has to stop in Ostuni where there is a fascinating page of history that goes back to about 25.000 years ago. On the hill of the white city, there is the cave of the sanctuary of S. Maria di Agnano, ancient place of worship at first pagan and then Christian. A ravine of extraordinary suggestion where nature and holiness melt and where it has been discovered the burial place of a young lady on the point of giving birth to her child. Today Delia – so it was called the most ancient sweet mother of the world, can be admired in the museum of the pre-classic civilizations of the southern “Murgia”, located in an ancient monastery in the historic center.

This archeological adventure in the land of Brindisi is rich of promises for the future: in Mesagne the archeological museum “Granafei” has about 2.500 finds of the “messapica” era belonging from the town center and from the areas of Muro Tenente and Muro Maurizio, where excavation sites are still in progress. Always, in Mesagne, in the quarter of Malvindi, near the farm bearing the same name, there are the finds of a thermal plant of Roman age.

In Villa Castelli the excavation sites of Pietra Pertosa testify the presence of a vital Neolitic settlement until the end of the XVII century: awaiting the end of the excavation sites the most significant finds are exhibited at the entrance of the ducal palace.

The “Messapi”, this people that look part in the history of the land of Brindisi, showed its presence in Valesio, in the territory of Torchiarolo, where, despite the abuses of time and vandals, are still visible their traces in the Messapican town bearing the same name, which later became roman with the name of Baletium. Other particularly important signs of the “messapica” presence are found also in Oria and Ceglie Messapica. Fortified circles of walls, inscriptions, graves attest the age of a land by archeological findings that can be seen here and there; another interesting surprise in a land that doesn’t love to show its treasures but prefers to give back to the visitor the ancient taste of discovery.

Protector of the historic memory of the province is the archeological provincial museum “F.Ribezzo” in Brindisi, where five interesting ways are suggested: the epigraphic and statuary section; the antiquarian section; the prehistoric section; the numismatic section and the section dedicated to the sculptures, that may be dated between the IV century A.C. and the III century D.C., found some years ago in the underwater excavation of Punta del Serrone.

The archeological documentation enjoyable from the administrative center is not only in the museum; in fact the town has in its built-up area, in addition to isolated finds of great interest such as the end columns of the Appian Way, the site of S. Pietro degli Schiavoni: a quarter of roman era that can be visited through a suggestive way on which there is the modern town-theatre” Giuseppe Verdi, the only theatre all over the world raised over an archeological zone.

From castle to castle A journey in the historic memory of the ancient land of Brindisi allows to know the charm of an architectonic hierarchy that has at its top a series of imposing castles. The battlements are for this land, as for the whole Apulia, the most important expression of the civil architecture, the element of continuity that persists for many centuries and dominions, characterizing the landscape and influencing remarkably the courses of settlement.

Towers, bulwarks, fortresses built with a defensive aim, buildings made and rearranged when security represented a priority-necessity, but also elegant castles given the task to state and emphasize the power of the ruler of that time.

Francavilla Fontana Imperial Castle - Brindisi
Francavilla Fontana: Imperial Castle

In fact, the castles were often the domus appointed to a rest place, to sumptuous parties, to hunting, to the rulers’ love meetings that, numerous, took place on these lands and also of their courtiers.

Federico II, the “puer Apuliae” has given the sign of his charisma to Brindisi in the powerful castle built on the coast of the west bay in 1227. It was Ferdinand I of Aragon to make the fortress surrounded by walls with four cylindrical large towers and then Charles V ordered further extensions.

The Svevian castle is defined by the people of Brindisi as “land castle” to distinguish it from another defensive building desired by Ferdinand I of Aragon in the exterior harbor, on the place of the eremitic abbey of Saint Andrew on the island, called “fortress on the sea”.

It’s again the mythic Federico II who left to Oria its royal mark in the powerful castle clung to the ancient acropolis of the “Messapi”, that has the particular for of an isosceles triangle and is characterized by a large quantity of weapons with barracks, storage, secret passages and tanks. At the bottom of the tower of the “Salto” there is the entrance of the ancient hypogean church of the saints Crisante and Daria.

The itinerary of the castles reveals in every town and in every suburb a tower, a bastion or, at least, a name that recalls the presence of a fortification in that place.

The history of the castle of Mesagne is strongly marked by bloody fights: the ancient castle, built by Roberto il Guiscardo in the XII century, was completely razed to the ground by Manfredi in 1256. On its ruins in the XV century De’ Balzo Orsini erected the actual building that has had a lot of rearrangements before assuming the peculiarities of a splendid residential palace.

Oria Tournament - Brindisi
Oria tournament

On the main square of San Vito dei Normanni there is the castle commissioned by the influential Boemondo d’Altavilla in the XII century: the fortress has been rearranged different times until achieving the actual elegant architectonic forms. The most ancient nucleus of the castle built in the XV century by De’ Balzo Orsini in Carovigno goes back to the Norman period; it was built to defend the town from the raids by Saracens and pirates.

Among the white houses of Ceglie Messapica stands out the big castle that the duke Fabrizio Sanseverino, Lord of the town, built in the XV century around two large preexistent towers.

Then there was a certain pacification that dissolved the quarrelsomeness and reduced the pirate raids; in this climate of rest a lot of feudal lords transformed their small fortresses in elegant residences.

Like this, in Francavilla Fontana, Michele Imperiali in 1730 transformed his castle built in the XV century by De’ Balzo Orsini in the actual residence that nowadays gives hospitality to the town administration.

It’s always thanks to Imperiali, a powerful and prestigious family of these lands, that the ancient castles of Latiano and Villa Castelli lost the various elements of fortification, bringing out the character of family-residences.

The same thing did Chjurlia in Cellino San Marco where the sixteenth century castle built by the feudal lord Antonio Albrizzi was transformed and widened and the same happened for the crenellated castle of Torre S. Susanna. While the castles and the fortified palaces outline the feudal history of a lot of communes of Brindisi, other important signs of the history of the territory are the numerous towers on the coast, forming a system of fortification made between the XV and XVI century to defend our coasts from the pirates.

Salento trullo - Brindisi
Trullo – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*

The “trullo”, masterpiece of peasant civilization Italian and foreign scholars have made enquiries about the origin of the “trulli” and their evolution in different times. For a lot of them the humble cone presents a certain affinity with the Greek “tholos”, but while this last one required a project, a professional performance, the “trullo” arises from a primary housing need and it is, originally the solitary work of a master peasant, who, unaware of the sophisticated building techniques, gives life to a spontaneous architecture where the real “modulus” is the wonderful integration with the environment.

Maybe in the past the “trullo” with an unicellular character wasn’t used as dwelling place, but as storage for agricultural implements.

The peasant, employing the plentiful stones coming on the surface, improved his building abilities and built dry “trulli”, without mortar or other material, stone over stone, putting them one next the other according to the growing needs of the family.

It’s possible to follow the evolution of the “trullo” on the formal level: from the most archaic cone-shaped “trullo” beginning from the floor level to one being based on a cylindrical wall of about two meters, to the most advanced cone shaped dome which is built on cubical base. The originality and charm of the “trullo” are contained in its capacity of keeping during the time the vitality and the use of the past; in fact it hasn’t been changed in a ruin-monument, but defying the centuries, it remains the emblem of that peasant civilization that, between anxieties and sacrifices has been able to preserve untouched, the relationship man-environment.

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