It is enough to identify Salento on any map to observe its geographical centrality within the Mediterranean Sea, universally recognized as the cradle of all Western civilization; observing the position of the Salento peninsula we immediately understand how this has been, over the centuries, an almost obligatory passage for the movement from east to west that characterized the history of ancient peoples already in the phases preceding the Greek and Roman eras. Starting from this consideration, it is easy to understand how the Salento area has been over time first a landing place and then a home for many peoples during their historical adventure, but what our adventurous predecessors left as a testimony of their life and struggle for the conquest of one’s own identity? There is still much to see and for convenience and ease of reading we will tell you about it in two different posts on this blog: this one, dedicated to the Salento archeology of the hinterland and the next which will be dedicated to the archeology of the Salento coast.

The first appointment is on what is geographically defined as the “Messapian threshold”, that is the splendid town of Ostuni, considered the northern limit of the Salento peninsula. The local Museum of Preclassical Civilizations houses the remains of Delia, also known as “the Woman of Ostuni”, a hominid whose remains were discovered in October 1991 by the palethnologist Donato Coppola, in a cave at the local archaeological park. The remains date back to about 24,000 years ago, but the importance of Delia is given by the fact that together with it, or rather in her womb, the remains of a fetus in the terminal phase were also found, and therefore Delia is still today the oldest mother of which history has direct knowledge.

The journey continues “in the feminine” with the Venus of Parabita, two statuettes from the prehistoric era, found in 1965 by the team of prof. Giuseppe Piscopo at the local Grotta delle Veneri, which represent two pregnant women hugging each other: this type of works of art are called Paleolithic venus. The statuettes are carved from horse bone and have an age of 12,000-14,000 years. They are kept at the MARTA (National Archaeological Museum of Taranto).

Going up the thread of Salento history it is necessary to face the Messapian period. The Messapi were a population that in the classical era occupied a large part of the Salento peninsula since their arrival, dated around 700 BC. until the Roman conquest of the whole Salento area which took place around 260 BC. Their origin is uncertain, but the most plausible hypotheses consider them a union between the Illyrian and Cretan people, who met in the Salento area during their explorations towards the West. Speaking of the Messapi, if you want to know more about their history, it is essential to take a walk in the “Parco dei Guerrieri”, a site brought to light in 1981 after the works by the University of Salento, in collaboration with the Ecole Francaise of Rome. The park today looks like an open-air archaeological area of about 20 hectares, distributed over an even larger area that goes from the town of Vaste to the Serre di Poggiardo, the natural hills on which the first Messapi settlements were born in Salento. Recent excavations have brought to light the remains of what must have been one of the most important cities of the Messapia; the path of the ancient walls, the foundations of the city and therefore of the huts that stood there and of which a faithful reproduction can be observed right at the Park has been recovered. Countless tombs still intact have also been unearthed, with all the funerary equipment and the remains of a pagan temple.

The Romans arrive in 260 BC. as we have seen, and this time the city of Lecce flourishes, with the Latin name of Lupiae, passing from a simple military station to a real “municipium”, experiencing a period of absolute splendor that coincides with that of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, period in which it was enriched with the construction of a theater and an amphitheater and connected to Porto Adriano (today San Cataldo).

In the Middle Ages, the nerve center of the Salento area moved to Otranto, which remained so until the brief Ottoman conquest in 1480 and immediately ended the following year. Despite the brevity of the Turkish occupation, the event remains central to the identity of the town of Hydruntina, as evidenced by the impressive relics of the Martyrs of Otranto, which can still be seen today at the local Basilica of the Annunziata.