Vie Francigene in the South, the allure of Salento

The Via Francigena routes in the South are ancient pilgrim routes. Charming routes which connected Rome to the ports of Puglia immersed in history from Roman bases, ancient trails and Christian sanctuaries. 

Via Francigena, Via Traiana Calabra, via Sallentina and Via Leucadense: with “South Cultural Routes” the courses which cross Puglia have been included in an integrated valorising project for cultural, landscape and environmental heritage.

The action was developed by Regione Puglia, Puglia Promozione and the European Association of the Vie Francigene, in collaboration with "Itineraria", "In Itinere", and the association “La casa delle comunità ospitanti degli Itinerari Francigeni della Puglia meridionale, experts and scholars of the area. Regione Puglia has valorised and is structuring the routes following the European standards of the Council of Europe. 

What are the characteristics of these routes from a historic and geographical perspective? Let's discover them together.

-> From Brindisi to Otranto, along the Via Traiana Calabra: 

The route derive mostly from the Via Romana tract, intersecting the main points, including Lecce and the archaeological area of Valesio: this Roman city, identified in the Tabula Peutingeriana with the name Baletium and Mutatio Valentia in the Itinerarium Burdigalense of the IV century, it was the imperial postal point and "mutatio" (horse exchange point) along the Via Traiana Calabra. The area crossed by the route is rich in historical characteristics of differing eras: from the Roman abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate, to the dolmen e menhir (numerous in Giurdignano), the rocky crypts and churches, the olive oil mills, and to the incredible historical centres of Lecce and Otranto.   

->From Otranto to S. Maria di Leuca, along the Via Francigena:

The route develops close to the enchanting Adriatic coast, an entirely unique environment for several reasons: for its geological structure, with high dolomitic cliffs and countless karst caverns along the coast and inland, rich with paleanologic finds and traces of fossils; for the copious native botanies; for its exceptional evidence of anthropic inhabitation. The route intersects some very suggestive areas, such as: the lake of the cava di Bauxite, an area of  landscape and environmental interest, a real asset of Puglia; Punta Palascia, also known as Capo d'Otranto, which is the most eastern point of Italy, a magical place where the incredibly tall lighthouse rises from among the rocks, in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature; and Serra del Mito and Torre del Sasso, till arriving at Punta Meliso, the most southern point of Salento, a place rich of stories and legends, where the promontory ends with the sea.

->From Taranto to S. Maria di Leuca, along the Via Sallentina:

The route, which winds almost entirely inland, intersecting the coast of Porto Cesareo, traces the tract and main rest-stops of the Via messapica-romana, and mostly utilises untrafficked roads and trails. The presence of many important historical centres makes this route particularly noteworthy, such as Taranto, Manduria, Nardò and Ugento. 

->From Lecce to S. Maria di Leuca, along the Via Leucadense:

The route unwinds entirely inland, among stretches of fields, olive woods and vineyards, through cities and hamlets filled with Mediterranean culture and memory, and through the so called Serre salentine: a barren and bare karst altiplane which man transformed into a unique and suggestive rural landscape, characterised by terracing, low walls and buildings made with drystone walls. The route is decorated with several architectural jewels, such as the Basilica di Santa Caterina d'Alessandria di Galatina, but also by historical structures, Masseria le Stanzie for example, as well as ancient accommodation sites, such as the Complesso di Leuca Piccola in Barbarano, constructed specifically to host pilgrims.

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