Otranto is a charming seaside town near the very tip of Italy’s heel in southern Puglia. It is characterized by ancient walls and the crystal clear waters.
Like Gallipolli and Ostuni, Otranto was strategically located for foreign invasions of Italy and Europe. And like her sister cities, Otranto has endured and survived for centuries.
Once a Roman port for trade, Otranto was been ruled by the Normans and later, in 1480, attacked and almost completely annihilated by the Turks when about 800 of the townsfolk were transported to a nearby hill and beheaded for refusing to deny their faith.
Otranto’s cathedral, completed in the 12th century, is known for its beautiful Baroque portal, fine rose window and magnificent interior. In addition, Otranto was one of four stops on the road to Jerusalem for pilgrims.
The cathedral is significant for two other reasons, one of which is its mosaic floor, reputed to be the largest mosaic in Europe. Completed in an amazing two years during the 12th century, it includes the ‘tree of life’ with intertwining Norman, Greek and Byzantine designs as well as fascinating animals, symbols and words whose secrets are still being studied and deciphered to this day.
The other is the chapel where the skeletal remains of the 800 townspeople who were slaughtered by the Turks are encased in glass walls. It is a moving experience and only last year (May 2013) they were granted sainthood.
Castello Aragonese, a castle in the center of town and overlooking Otranto’s port, was built in the late 15th century by the Aragonese to defend the town against foreign invasions.
Today the only invaders are the tourists who come to enjoy Otranto’s seaside charm as well as its superb seafood including sea urchins, sea bass and sea bream.