Travellers In The Ancient Martina Franca

Over the past centuries the isolation of towns in the "Regno di Napoli" (Naples' Kingdom) was striking for travellers coming from northern Europe.

The poor condition of communications, the presence of criminals plundering wayfarers and the backward commerce made contacts between different parts of the Kingdom, even if distant few miles, very difficult.

In such a scenario Martina not only wasn't different, but, indeed, the character of the land, inaccessible and at that time largely covered with woods, together with the distance from the old "safe" ways made matters even worse.
Of the four main roads connecting Martina to other parts of the reign, the road for Taranto to the south, the one for Massafra to the west, for Francavilla to the east and for Bari to the north, only the last one ensured at least a scarcely acceptable safety.
When a traveller for some reason ventured to this part of the reign, reaching Martina, he was amazed at finding out that, sheltered by a hostile wildlife, there was a place very different from the one he expected.
He was struck first by the beauty of the "martinese" countryside.

Its gentle look, with all those odd tiny whitewashed houses dotting an undulating landscape, the lanes that seemed to be drawn by the paint-brush of an artist, together with the bright colours of various cultivations clashed with the rough characteristic of the places crossed to get there.
The Valle d'Itria (Itria's Valley) was particularly picturesque and, with its concave expanse, radiused distant hills, on which white villages lied.
It was all strewn with "trulli" (little houses with a cone-shaped roof), it was spotted with green touches of the brush of scattered trees, so that it seemed to be the picture of a fair-tale book.
The traveller didn't expect either to find a so populated town in such a hidden area.
In the late eighteenth century Martina had nearly 15000 inhabitants, a very large number for that time, considering that Bari had 20000 ones, Taranto 18000 ones and Brindisi even only 5000 ones.
The town, that from the top of the hill watched the whole valley, was all contained in the old walls.
The buildings, risen at random one after the other, filling up still existing spaces, had generated twisted shapes.

The narrow alleys, by day swarming with people, were delimited by thick white-washed outside walls that gave the town-dwellers a sensation of protection and warm.
Among the confused mass of popular construction only S.Martino church and the imposing Ducal Palace caught the eye for their majesty.

(ducal palace)

The palace had risen where, before, the old castle of the Orsini stood.
That castle, pulled down in 1668, left of itself only the memory amongst the people and just one representation in a painting of Nicola Gliri.
The town was not prepared to welcome foreigners.There was only an inn, in addition not very cosy.
The only way to secure an agreeable stay was to present themselves with a letter of introduction, that assured the hospitality of one of many wealthy families living in Martina.
The warm reception of these people was just one of the things that surprised more men coming from distant places: "usually foreigners arriving at these villages preconceive to find inhospitable and uncivilised inhabitants, so their surprise is greater when they find a true and friendly hospitality", Salis De Marschilins confirmed, while someone else described Martina like this: "its inhabitants present themselves to foreigners adorned with suave manners and a kind hospitality".
Also the advice given by marquis Giuseppe Ceva Grimaldi, after a short stay in our town, is worth mentioning: "whoever travel the province of Otranto might drop in at Martina in the summertime :he will find a fresh and pleasant stay, frequent dances, delicious sherbets, very pure companies, loveable and polite women who sing good music and dance the 'pizzica' ".

The so renowned sherbets of Martina, about which Ceva Grimaldi wrote, were made from snow, that was picked up in winter and kept into "nevaie" (store of snow), adding lemon juice or mint, rosolio or else "vino cotto" (cooked wine). They were often offered to guests and what a delight was for foreigners, in a sunny summer day, to taste a good sherbets sheltered from the sun, chatting kindly with their hosts.
Amongst illustrious travellers who appreciate our hospitality is worth mentioning English general Church.
In 1871 he was round here with his troop, his mission was to catch brigands hidden in the area.

(brigands)

He was just passing through and so he didn't intend to stop for a long time.
Martinese gentleman don Martino Recupero, who for that occasion prepared a sumptuous banquet, offered hospitality to him and his soldiers.
Broad halls were lit up by many candles, tables were loaded by all sort of delicacies and all illustrious town-dwellers were invited.
It seemed the English man liked the party much and, although he didn't take part in the dance prepared in his honour, he enjoyed looking at women dancing and he quickly moved around the hall to talk with ladies.
In fact he had a liking for Martinese woman, like he would have said later.
His stay was so pleasant that the general remained in Martina for a longer time than the one he had planned before and, only after three days, with great regret, he left the town; but his Martinese experience remained amongst his best memories.
Therefore he also, like most of those who came to Martina, didn't resist the spell of the town.
Unluckily we will never meet such genuine people, appreciate the beauty of those landscapes, breathe that "esquisita"(exquisite) air, because we have lost all these things by now.
The only thing we can do is to look at what that time bequeath us and to be traveller in the ancient Martina, but only with our imagination.

Giuseppe Di Santo



email: vvene@libero.it


pictures trulli alberobello, beautiful images 1