Apulia Gravine itinerary
the Italian canyons
The resources of Puglia territory are something that will never cease to mystify me. When I think I have seen everything, an invisible hand came in a friendly way to drove me in Puglia, to show me that I was wrong.
I already knew that the fascinating Land of the Gravine in Puglia, takes the visitor among beautiful landscapes, but I had never seen these canyons with my own eyes.
I discovered that exist itineraries to follow between churches and rocky villages, and naturalistic walks. Without forgetting the gastronomy of this land.
If you want to know more about this Italian region I suggest you read this article about the top points of interest of Puglia.
Before you go any further, keep in mind that the plug adapters in Italy are different than most of the plug adapters used around the world so make sure to get one. A cheaper one like this will do its work.
ITINERARY AMONG THE LAND OF THE GRAVINE IN PUGLIA: MOTTOLA
The small village of Mottola is a jewel that I have the chance to visit in the evening. I arrived just in time for the sunset at the 'rotonda,' a panoramic point from which I can admire the warm colors of the sun, which gives way to the moon, caressing the whole lowland up to the Gulf of Taranto.
From this trip to Puglia, I have learned a few things: even the smallest village, in the evening, it comes to life as a sort of carillon.
And for Mottola is the same. I found the square XX Settembre, the center of the Town, full of people, shops, and barbecue places on the main avenues.
Passing close to the Clock Tower, I left the last groups of citizens before entering the Mother Church of the XII century. I just crossed the threshold to find out that there was Mess.
The people, however, instead of becoming angry about the intrusion ended the prayers and, with great pride, they drove me inside the building! How much I love Puglia! I think that these things can only happen here.
I followed my guides between restored paintings and small curiosities as the relics of Saint Thomas Becket, the ancient seat graves, and the fresco of the Madonna del Rosario. Without forgetting a standstill in front of the beautiful statue of the Virgen.
Greeted my new friends, I went out in the night. The white alleys of Mottola, which shine in the daytime are now mysteriously vibrating. A game of light, shades, secrets animated sketches.
Sometimes those alleys open on some small square, where I find people chatting. I imagine them full of citizens looking for refreshment, during the beautiful season, amid perfume of flowers and summer.
GRAVINA OF MOTTOLA
The light of Puglia wished me good morning, with its incisive strength. The itinerary among the Gravine starts with the visit of the historical Gravina of Petruscio and its rocky village.
A hidden treasure of Mottola that can be proud of this natural heritage between landscapes made of rock and Mediterranean vegetation.
As soon as I got down from the bus, I was abducted by the perfumes. Flowers and aromatic grass accompanied me along the walk.
I followed a path dug in the rock, driven by the experience of Maria, a great expert of this territory. It is a sort of track in the heart of the Gravina, and waiting for me there was a cultural inheritance, composed of 200 house-cave arranged on more levels: a real condo of the past!
Observing this rocky installation while Maria told the stories about it, I saw scenes of life, shades, and dreams of a past called to tell its present.
It seems unbelievable, but there were not the local populations to live in the house-cave. These rocky installations were real centers, perfectly organized, functional. A different scenery, to what is usually thought.
I observed the stones and, the voice of Maria turned into a whisper, allowing me to imagine Byzantine populations escaping from the unhealthy urban centers, to seek and create a place in which to live with dignity.
I saw men and women intended to give life to a town dug in the rock, where the houses are ample and divided into practical and livable environments.
Silos for the maintenance of the cereals, to preserve the foods, cisterns calcified for the waters, purified before the use!
I were surrounded by Mediterranean stain but is just an instant to imagine this area full of gardens and cultivations, since the agriculture, few at the time, was inserted into the surrounding territory.
I climbed on the rocks, to reach a 'noble house,' belonging to the Igumeno, the head of the Orthodox Church, which lived in this community.
A rocky villa, ample that makes immediately think to a wealthy and influential man. Close there was the so-called Cathedral, where the population could approach for its praying.
The rupestrian village of the Gravina of Petruscio is one of the large installations in the province of Taranto. A masterpiece in which to bathe in front of the evidence of technology and organization.
TOUR OF THE RUPESTRIAN CHURCHES
AMONG THE GRAVINE IN PUGLIA
1. Saint Margherita
In the outskirts of Mottola, the rocky installations are present on the whole territory. A French researcher, at the end of the '800, came to Italy and cataloged all of them.
A scenic walk behind the caves of Mottola, with an ample view of the village, between olive trees and low Mediterranean stain, it conducted me up to the Rupestrian Church of Saint Margherita.
I loved those rocky churches because the man had arranged with nature a truce, which allowed him to create a proper place of cult.
There was the necessity to adapt the way to build, the respect toward nature, to build integrated environments. Like the Rocky Church of Saint Margherita, that has the entry and the iconostasis on the side.
The beauty of the frescos, tells the stories and the martyrdom of the young Margherita protectress of the pregnant. There is also a succession of saints, mostly represented on the rough walls but what you actually see is the strong female component, both in the figure of Margherita and in the presence of eight Madonna statues with their Child, all different from each other!
At a little distance from here, in a sort of summer garden, is located an unusual rocky crypt, the only one in Italy put on two floors: the Crypt of Sant'Angelo.
You enter in the bowel of the rock, in this angle of silence that represented a private funeral crypt. This environment is vast. I looked around me and walked among the three aisles, observing the particulars that Maria made me notice.
The frescos are still perfectly visible with Giacomo, the Baptism of Christ and the Madonna with Child. All seems ready for the celebration...
In the inferior church, the open graves create a suggestive environment in the dark of the cave.
3. St. Nicola
Back up to the surface, I needed some time waiting for my eyes to readjust to the light. There was still the visit to the Rupestrian Church of St. Nicola.
A long country road, narrowed among little walls, dried and pulpy plants of prickly pear, groups of beautiful olive trees, conducted me up to the crypt. Here too, the rock narrates histories of people of the past.
They are not only the frescos to stroke me in the Church of St. Nicola, but also two curiosities that immediately aroused my interest.
The first is about a hypogaeum just reconsecrated to the orthodox cult; therefore, someone still celebrates here official rites!
The second, thanks to Maria, I discovered that this church is a sort of solar calendar: there am dwarfish windows, which allows filtering the light of the sun in the proximity of equinoxes and solstices, going to strike the represented frescos symbolically! An example for everybody? At a week from the spring equinox, the light touches the heart of St. Nicola!
GRAVINA OF GINOSA
Another day of sun accompanied my itinerary among the Gravine of Puglia. I reached Ginosa early in the morning when the village was waking up, the truck of the vegetables passes house by house selling fresh products. To me, the: "Signore, lampascioniiii!!!" (a sort of onion), is like a hymn of Puglia.
Together with two excellent guides, Nicola and Domenica, I proceed along the panoramic zone of Ginosa, leaned out on the Gravina. An explosion of greens and rock, the wild nature, against the grace of the white alleys of the historical center.
From the Norman Castle of the XI century, the perspective opens to the Gravina so much that is easy to imagine its function of defending tower before being turned into the Baronial Building. Elegant and robust, with its bridge that seems to fluctuate.
In the silence of a perfumed country of aromatic grass, I reached the Gravina of Ginosa, a visual show, but also a place of study, to understand the delicate relationship between man and nature during the centuries.
Particularly here, where the housing solutions have remained completely frozen in time. A sort of stone photocopy divided into two neighborhoods: the Rione di Rivolta and the Rione di Casale.
The spectacular Rione di Rivolta welcomed me with its 66 house-cave set up on five floors. Fascinating residences that like in Gravina of Petruscio are perfectly organized with cisterns, freezer, and wells.
The house-cave were practical, ample, often in a room completely reserved to the hearth! The position allowed the light of the sun to enter in a functional way based on the season of the year.
A very different reality, from that known of shame and uneasiness, to which one thought when thinking about rocky villages.
I then reached the panoramic point on the Rione del Casale that, for some aspects, results even more elegant.
Despite the collapse after the 1857 earthquake, the people have kept on living here moving themselves to the unharmed caves.
This archaic wonder has been used as scenography for a pair of movies.
THING TO SEE IN GINOSA
Besides the wild beauty of the Gravina, Ginosa also has other pearls to show, beginning from the monumental Mother Church.
A masterpiece, not so much for the structure, but due to its guide, a real historical memory of the old village: Carmelo, the only inhabitant of the old country of Ginosa, custodian of the Mother Church and a man with an endless heart.
I followed him listening about the history of the preserved treasures. Particularly, the sweetness of the three Virgens (pregnant, after the birth, nursing), the true symbology of the woman's strength.
The reception in Puglia is something enchanting; it dazzles you until the heart melt.
Before lunch, I could enter a shop along the panoramic road. It was a private laboratory in which the wood perfume overhangs everything.
Among the so many produced masterpieces I noticed the bread stamps. In the past, every family had one of it. When the loaves were brought to cook to the oven, these were engraved in such a way that each one could recognize his stamp! Today, many use the stamps as a decoration, a symbol of the family.
To maintain the theme of bread, I walked up to the hidden Via Redipuglia, in which is located the Panificio Piccolo. Along the alley, has been prepared a splendid table, where I could taste handmade products, vegetables, meats and the typical pizza-bread with mushrooms!
And the Callared, a sheep cooked by Peppino for about seven hours, with chicories, potatoes, celery, carrots, laurel and oil of Ginosa. A typical dish of the tradition.
I finally concluded this banquet with wine, and sharing, with the famous Dormienti, a typical pastry. It is a simple product, poor, of the ancient Ginosa.
It is made with little loaves of bread with only the addition of drops of chocolate. Or if you want they can be stuffed with ricotta or ice-cream.
A sudden storm jeopardized the excursion to the Gravina of Laterza. I just stood in the panoramic point of this 'inverted mountain' (to quote Nicola Zilio, that will also drove the visits in the afternoon).
From that high point, I observed the wildest Gravina of the whole Puglia. 12 km of indomitable nature! Impossible for the ancient populations to think about living in this ground. The magnetism is total.
The village of Laterza is a small jewel too. A candid white, which only the floral decorations interrupt the monochrome.
A maze of alleys in which the children can play without dangers. Where the people still stop to exchange some word.
Laterza caught me with its Museum of the Country Life, in which I met so many objects of daily use, that tell about the Land of Gravine, bringing me back to my infancy. An exposure of utensils by now lost, yet so essential to understanding our roots.
The weather didn't improve, but the walk in the historical center, among artisan shops where ceramics and typical products are sold, made that day happy and vivacious.
My objective was the Sanctuary of Maria Santissima Mater Domini, a place of worship that host a delicate statue of the Virgen. Yet, the real gem of this building is the crypt. Recently brought to its former glory, it is composed of a series of environments in a game of colors and images that leave without breath!