Salento la terra de lu sule, lu mare e lu ientu
Let’s cheer up our grey days by thinking about our next Italian holidays. A good friend of mine sent me to her region in the south of Italy years ago. I have been thinking of writing about this wonderful place for a long time, but I didn’t have enough material… Now my friend Marcella has helped me to put together this short introduction….
I’m very happy to introduce you to Salento ‘la terra de lu sule lu mare e lu ientu’ (this is in the local dialect and it means the land of sun, sea and wind). This magic land can offer a truly unique and unforgettable experience with its fascinating history, breathtaking landscapes, hypnotic dance and music and… off course great food. Here you will also find unchanged religious traditions and their famous and spectacular processions as well as many other ‘sagre’ (festivals) which have a more pagan origin to celebrate a particular crop, fruit or wine.
As you can see from the map, Salento is located in Puglia, the heel of our Italian boot.
A few words about Salento’s history
Salento is the most eastern region of Italy, a border land, like a balcony that faces two seas, called in the past Messapia, that means land between the seas.
Salento’s history always met with the Eastern one, starting with the legend that sees in the inhabitants of Crete the founders of Lecce, the main city of Salento.
During the Bronze age the Salento peninsula was inhabited by Indo-European populations. Testimonies of this period are dolmens and menhir, in the lower part of Salento.
The Greek Influence
During the VII century, Greek settlers founded, along the coast, cities such as Gallipoli, Otranto, Castro, small prestigious cities that would become landmarks of Greece.
Regarding the Greek presence in Salento there is still a linguistic area named Greece of Salento.
This ethnic and linguistic minority embraces nine communes located at south east of the Salento peninsula, while the whole peninsula is made of 110 communes.
Immediately after Greece, Salento became a Roman province.
Romans, conquering Salento, discovered painting, sculpture and a taste for poetry. Because of the strategic position of the land, facing the east, they built many harbours.
After the fall of the Romans, under the Byzantines and Normans’ rule, Salento became the centre of the world.
The XVI century and Lecce’s Renaissance
During this period Lecce became one of the most beautiful and important cities for cultural and artistic activities. Besides attracting nobles and scholars, the Baroque found in this city a proper home. Lecce is still the main city of the Salento peninsula which is called the “Florence of the south”.
Every town and village has a yearly festa, so during the summer you’ll be spoiled for choice: so many feste or sagre to attend every night.
Many of them involve old religious rites, like the carrying of the statue of the Virgin Mary around Lecce (August 24-6) or into the sea in Otranto (September 6). Others, like in Novoli, have bonfires and spectacular fireworks (January 16-17). Almost all will include the Pizzica , a fast and compelling rhythmic dance done with the accompaniment of the tambourine, accordion and violin. The atmosphere is pulsing and hypnotic, whether it’s a festa in a modest village or the August event in Melpignano, which has international guest stars and attracts audiences of 15,000.
Pizzica is a popular folk dance, originally from the Salento peninsula and later spreading throughout all the Puglia region.
This might be explained by Pizzica’s origins: though once associated with dancing out the poison of a spider-bite, the Pizzica actually arrived in Salento from ancient Greece, and its function appeared to be therapeutic. Women working hard in the fields and living restricted lives would dance themselves through the night into a cathartic trance grabbing a tambourine and dancing without inhibition. The next day they would go to be blessed at the chapel of St paul in Galatina – a Pizzica and special mass is still held there every June
This dance is absolutely not to be missed. Some of my Italian friends from the north of Italy went to Puglia on holidays and they loved the Pizzica so much that they wanted to learn it.
We’ll let you enjoy the presentation and the pictures that my friend Marcella sent me and feel free to contact her if you’d like to have more info about Salento and Puglia… she’s the best advisor!
Grazie a tutti e grazie Marcella per il tuo aiuto!
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