friends, last Sunday morning we left beautiful Ostuni,
called "the white town" for the dazzling white colour of its
buildings and we drove southwards, through olive
trees and flowers to the Lecce area. In Campi Salentina we visited
the two standing stone of (Candido
and Sperti). The Sperti stone is situated
in the garden of a religious institute, where a group of nuns take care
of some convicts' children. Nun Sistina (1.50m tall) welcomed Diego
(1.86m tall) with an ironic "Hello Your Highness", then she
asked if we could take some photos of the children, to cheer them up.
So Diego and Paola tried to make them smile for a while photographing
and playing with them and promising to send to the children the prints
as soon as possible.
After this intermezzo, we continued our journey to Lecce, the jewel of Baroque in Apulia. The most decorated church is Santa Croce but also the Duomo with its two different façades is very interesting. In Lecce we met a friend we knew on the Net, Toti Calò. He is a very very nice person (we aren't writing this just because he's reading our web pages: he is REALLY a nice person). And he is a great expert on Apulian megaliths. He has also witten an excellent and up-to-date book on the prehistoric monuments of his region: "Pietre" (Stones) that has become the "bible" of our tour. Monday and Tuesday Toti even took two days off from his work to guide us among the labyrinths of narrow country roads to visit dolmens and standing stones. How kind of him!
You can't imagine how many stone monuments are spread south of Lecce: 65 standing stones and 21 dolmens. But only a small part of them are known and signposted. Many of them risk every day to be destroyed by local farmers and building constructors. And some have been already hopelessly wrecked. A huge "thanks" to the awfully unuseful Sovrintendenza dei Beni Culturali - the highly bureaucratic national organization that should care for Italian cultural heritage! Anyway, Toti guided us to a long series of standing stones, sited in villages (San Totaro in Martano, Bagnolo, San Vincenzo in Giurdignano, Giallini in Muro Leccese) or among olive trees (Spruno, Palanzano, San Giovanni Malcantone), and along stone walls (Croce di Bagnolo, Miggiano). As you can see in the photos, the standing stones of the Lecce area are different from the other ones in northern Europe: they are usually tall (up to 5 metres), regular in shape and pillar-looking. An exception is the beautiful Monticelli stone.
Following the restless Toti, we also visited nine dolmens, some very small in size (the pretty "baby" dolmens of Masseria Nuova, Grotta and Pino), one very complex (Corigliano), one in serious danger (Specchia), almost surrounded by modern walls. After the two dolmens Peschio and Orfine, we visited also one of the "kings" of the region: the Scusi dolmen, a megalithic wonder with a gigantic capstone measuring 3.8 x 2.5m. Dolmens' capstones in Apulia, as you can see in the photos or in the panoramic views of Grotta and Scusi sites, are often supported not only by upright slabs, but also by drystone walls.
In addition to this deluge of megaliths, we visited also one "specchia" (an ancient stone mounds with no burials inside), a strange natural rock formation called "Masso della Vecchia" (the old woman's stone) and a minuscule crypt cut in the rock below the standing stone of San Paolo. In the crypt there are Byzantine frescoes of saints and there is a painted web, symbol of the ancient and pagan tradition of the "Taranta" (from the name of the spider tarantula), when women dance in a frantic way, pretending to be possessed by an evil spirit. At the Masso della Vecchia we met a prymary schoolclass and Paola explained to a troop of curious children who we are and how a photographic tripod works. It was very amusing.
At the end of this diary page, some words on the local people. Several different civilizations mixed here during the centuries: from the ancient Greeks and the mysterious Messapians, to the Spanish and the French, passing through Normans, Venetians and Saracens. The final result of this amazing mix? People from Lecce area are hospitable, nice and open-minded. Last Monday we met a group of Toti's friends, some working with computers and photography, other teaching maths and hystory. Mimmo, Rosy, Marcello, Stefano and Giuseppe welcomed us as we were old friends. We had a wonderful time with them, sharing opinion and comparing experiences. Paola (born in Milan) is ashamed of the stupid prejudices of many northen Italians towards southern Italians. She finds that people are more resourceful and culturally curious in Lecce than in Milan.
Now a soft bed in the comfortable hotel of Minervino di Lecce is waiting for us. See you soon in these pages!
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