Apulia is divided into 5 territorial areas: Gargano, Subappennino Dauno, Salento, Tavoliere di Foggia, Murgie. Salento is the most ancient land, still anchored to the ancestral rhythms of its civilization. Salento’s territory is a complex spiritual world since its origins, as evidenced by the ancient wall painting, (representing arcane human and solar symbolism, scenes of hunting) found inside the marine caves of Zinzulusa, Romanelli, Cavallo. One of the most famous cave, internationally recognized for its archaeological importance dating from the Neolithic, is the “Grotta del Cervo” (Deer’s Cave) located in Porto Badisco (Otranto - Lecce).
Salento’s territory is the easternmost region of Italy, a land of frontiers. Thanks to the Mediterranean sea, the region of Salento has always met the East. In the Bronze Age, the area was inhabited by Indo-European peoples who came south through the Alps. The dozens of dolmen and menhirs found inside Salento’s territory, are a testimony to these cultures.
Hellenic penetration in Apulia is historically linked to the work of legendary heroes, such as the Athenian Teseo, the Cretes Japige and Idomeneo, Diomede and Messapo. In the 15th century BC sailors from the Greek peninsula, the Mycenae, began a period of contact with the people of the western Mediterranean by initiating the influence of Hellenic culture in Apulia. Messapi, Byzantines, Romans and many other peoples left their influence. In particular Messapi established a climate of friendship with the people of Salento. This cultural and artistic communion is documented above all in the funeral sculpture and painting of Messapi’s hypogean tombs of Egnazia (Lecce - Palmieri’s hypogeum), Rudiae and Vaste (hypogeum of the Caryatids).
Later, around 250 BC, the Roman Empire began occupying Salento. They remained until the fall of the West Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages the Byzantine influence of the Roman capital Constantinople arrived in Salento where Byzantine painting was spread, especially in crypts and funerary tombs. In particular in 1020 Eustazio enriched the crypt of Carpignano Salentino (Lecce) and the crypt of SS. Stefani in Vaste (Lecce). This way a new pictorial culture arose, has record from the Santa Maria degli Angeli ’s frescoes, a church near Poggiardo (Lecce) that witness the birth of this style of painting spread only in Terrasanta, Cyprus and Salento.
The slow but constant penetration of the Eastern Church characterized the spiritual life of Salento, which saw the spread of monasticism inspired by St. Basil. In the second half of the year new invaders from Northern Europe, the Normans, arrived in Salento. In a few decades they ended Byzantine rule and Orthodox worship brought by the East. The Normans introduced feudalism and Catholicism that in few years has replaced greek cultures.
In 1480, the Turkish army of Emperor Mohammed II landed on the east coast of Salento. Otranto (Lecce) considered the natural and main port of Salento was destroyed by the Turks and plundered in a battle where 800 Christians were decapitated by the Emperor within the Church of Otranto, today called “La Chiesa degli 800 Martiri” (the church of the eight hundred martyrs). Also Leonardo Da Vinci with the Medici’s court of Florence, participated to this battle to defend Italian coasts from Turkish invaders.
After Otranto’s battle ends the Greek-Orthodox religious rites almost total disappeared, in favor of Catholicism. But Greek culture and the ancient Griko language are still living in a portion of territory, the heart of Salento, called Grecìa Salentina.