Otranto, Province of Lecce, Puglia

otranto coatofarms Otranto is a seaport situated on the east coast of a peninsula. The harbour is small and has little trade, being mostly use for fishing activity and tourism.

About 30 miles southeast lies the promontory of Santa Maria di Leuca (so called since ancient times from its white cliffs), the southeastern extremity of Italy, the ancient Promontorium Lapygium or Sallentinum. The district between this promontory and Otranto is thickly populated, and very fertile.


  • Population: about 5000 inhabitants
  • Zip/postal code: 73028
  • Dialing Area Code: +39 0836


Otranto occupies the site of the ancient Hydrus or Hydruntum, a town of Greek origin. In Roman times it was less important than Brundisium as a point of embarkation for the East, though the distance to Apollonia was less than from Brundusium. It remained in the hands of the Byzantine emperors until it was taken by Robert Guiscard in 1068.

In 1480, the Turkish fleet landed nearby and took the city and its fort. The Pope called for a Holy War, with a massive force built up by Ferdinand I of Naples, among them notably troops of Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, despite frequent Italian quarreling at the time. The Neapolitan force met with the Turks in 1481, thoroughly annihilating them. However, in the two battles, the city was utterly destroyed, and has never since recovered its importance.

What to see

  • The Castle, erected by Alphonse I of Aragon.
  • The church of San Pietro, with Byzantine frescoes.
  • The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, consecrated in 1088, has a rose window and side portal of 1481. The interior, a basilica with nave and two aisles, contains columns said to come from a temple of Minerva and a fine mosaic pavement of 1166, with interesting representations of the months and Old Testament subjects. It has a crypt supported by 42 marble columns. On 12 august 1480 a Turkish fleet attacked and plundered the town, killing 20,000 inhabitants and taking 800 prisoners. When they refused to abjure the Christian faith, they were all killed in the cathedral, which was then transformed into a mosque. The bones of the martyrs, made saints by the church, are preserved in huge wooden containers.

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