Otranto lies in the Lecce province in Puglia, which sits on the eastern coast of the Salento peninsula. This is one of the easternmost points of the Italian peninsula. In fact, on clear days you can even see Albania if look out across the Strait of Otranto. The town is of Ancient Greek origin, when it bore the name Hydrus. In Latin this became Hydruntum, from where you can see the beginnings of its modern name.
Under the Romans, Otranto was an important port city because of its strategic position as a connection between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Like much of southern Italy, the Ottoman Empire invaded and attempted to conquer the area. The Siege of Otranto in the late 15th Century was, however, a particularly bloody one. Well over 100 Turkish ships arrived at this city’s shores, and the empire’s soldiers sacked the city, killing all males over the age of 15 and selling women and children into slavery. The Martyrs of Otranto gave their life in this siege. This particularly refers to the 800 citizens that shut themselves in the cathedral but were eventually captured and executed.
The bones and relics of these martyrs still surround the altar of the town’s 11th-century cathedral. This also features a rose window that dates back to the 1400s, as well as columns thought to have come from the Ancient Temple of Minerva. This church also features a beautiful mosaic flooring that dates back to the mid-12th Century. Another pleasant church in Otranto is the Chiesa di San Pietro, which features some stunning byzantine fresco artworks.
Some may recognise this town’s name from the Maypole’s Castle of Otranto, one of the first gothic novels. Though it does not even slightly resemble this spooky structure, Otranto does have its own fortified castle, the Castello Aragonese. This underwent reconstruction in the 15th Century under the orders of the king of Naples, though it displays the coat of arms of Emperor Charles V in its entrances. It is an interesting structure with five sides and a moat.
The town itself is rather picturesque, with white-washed buildings and a relaxed holiday ambiance. It borders a charming beach, onto which vividly blue waters lap. Because of its vicinity to the sea, it is absolutely necessary that visitors taste the fresh seafood on offer at Otranto’s restaurants. Here you will find dishes based around mussels, squid, anchovies and even octopus. Food aside, the seafront is a delightful place to take your evening passeggiata, as you soak up the laid-back and warm atmosphere.
The closest airports to Otranto are Brindisi and Bari. Both of these offer train connections through to Otranto. Alternatively, coming from elsewhere in Puglia, you can easily reach the town by car, bus and train.