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Puglia - A colourful history

Puglia’s has a long and colourful history thwart with invaders trying to conquer the precious land. Some settled down, seduced by the climate and the charm of the indigenous peoples; the Messapi in the south, the Peucezi in the centre and the Dauni in the north. Others were seen on their way.

The diversity of its conquerors is seen in its architecture and ancient ruins. Prehistoric constructions, known as menhir’s, portal tombs or standing stones, are thought to have been used as ancient religious sites. The 8th century B.C. saw the peaceful colonization by the Greeks using Pulgia as a springboard for their successful empire, known by the Italians as La Magna Grecia or ‘Greater Greece’. The city of Taranto (now a city of high Industry) was used as the headquarters and the coastline serves as a reminder of their occupation, with abandoned settlements scattered to the north and south.

The Romans built roads into Puglia, stretching from Rome to Brindisi, known as the Appian Way. Following this, a new type of social and economic structure was born in the form of large independent farms, or Masserie. A small community comprising of living areas for both the owners and the workers, grain mills, olive presses and chapels. The 1600s saw more than 2000 of these successful farms scattered over the land. Now though most remain abandoned or turned into hotels or ‘holiday working farms’. You can still find the odd one or two to visit.

The 12th century saw Frederick 11 bring his wisdom to the Pugliese landscape, constructing large box-like castles, acres of vineyards and olive groves. Towards the Murgia hills, near Andria, you can discover Castel del Monte, now declared a world heritage site by UNESCO.

We cannot forget the art history in Puglia, noted famously for the local Baroque. The Spanish had their say in the 1500s, winning control of the Kingdom of Naples and bringing an era of unprecedented creativity that lasted for 200 years. Lecce is most renowned for this explosion in imaginative architecture, with buildings, churches and homes covered with ornate carvings. Intricate representations of religious symbols, animals, people, floral patterns and various stories still remain today. The quality of the local stone gave the ability to these architects, allowing them to hand sculpt the soft marble when taken from the quarry. The colour finished off the effect, turning a warm golden colour with brushes of pink when exposed to the warm Adriatic breeze.

The Trulli have been the best-kept secret of the land, with many stories as to their birth whispering around the region. Perhaps the most pleasurable of them all, worthy of place in the history books is the tale of the ultimate ‘tax-dodge’.

The Pugliesi cleverly devised the dry stone houses in order to evade the high tax costs on permanent housing, being imposed by the King. Upon word of the local nobility’s impeding arrival, the Trulli were rapidly dismantled and hidden away. Once the visit was over, the King satisfied that his people were paying their share of his kingdom, they were easily re-erected and life would resume.

The mystery surrounding the building of the Trulli is also mirrored in their arrival to the southern Italian land. Some theories date the dwellings back 5000 years, although a more realistic view would be their construction during the Middle Ages. These long-time dated theories are more likely based on the descendants of ancient civilisations who built similar dwellings using the same dry masonry techniques all across the Mediterranean. The Tholoi, domed like tombs, of Mycenae are linked to the origin of the Trullo and the Greek word Tholoi may well be the birth of the name Trullo.

Descendants of any land use what is available to them at the time. Forests, although abundant when Pulglia was first discovered, would rapidly deplete, with the growth of the Masserie and the need for grazing livestock, vineyards and olive groves. A joy then that the land had a seemingly never ending supply of limestone, saving the trees, as the olive would supply a valuable source of income and another reason for the architecture on sight all over Puglia today.

History of the Olive

An interesting little snippet of information for you, especially as the olive plays such a major role throughout Puglia’s history.

The first fossil leaves from the so called original olive tree date back a millennium, the first cultivations being discovered in the south of Caucaso, Greece. Greek Mythology states that the goddess Athena planted the first olive tree, with the fruits said to provide men with a wonderful juice. They were considered holy, a symbol of strength, faith and peace. So much so, that anybody found damaging them were sent to exile. Historians then go on to say that these trees spread to the isles of Cyprus, Rhodes and Crete.

However. The discoveries in Puglia, Torre a mare, Bari, Fasano and Brindisi, date back to Neolitico (5000b.c.); which suggests that the olive tree, in fact, had it’s birth in the south of Italy.

history collage