The Porto Selvaggio Regional Natural Park

Ten kilometers away from the Municipality of Nardò and a little less than twenty from the Municipality of Gallipoli there is an obligatory stop for those visiting Salento: a natural oasis that includes the Cala di Porto Selvaggio, the Palude del Capitano and the Torre dall 'Alto, a natural area protected by regional law since 2006 and included in 2007 in the list of "100 places to save" of the Italian Environment Fund (FAI).

We said an obligatory appointment, for lovers of seaside resorts, sports and nature in general. You can get there by driving a few minutes from the Municipality of Nardò and after having parked in one of the stops used, you walk a few hundred meters and find yourself in front of a natural spectacle to rub your eyes, a long descent immersed in nature leads in fact to a small beach of gravel and pebbles with a crystalline sea, whose waters are particularly refreshing and invigorating, also due to a current of fresh and cold water that reaches directly into the bay. The beach is surrounded by a large pine forest, whose trees were planted in the 1950s to reclaim the largely marshy surrounding land.

Within this natural park, which is not limited to the beach area, but includes over four hundred hectares of land, of which over two hundred and sixty of pine forest, there are various itineraries and different possibilities to relax or play sports; there are in fact the surrounding cliffs, a little more inaccessible than the "pine forest area", but which still allow bathing, there are also the numerous paths inside the pine forest, usable for walks or picnics and which are also an unmissable appointment for lovers of trekking and mountain biking. Speaking of trekking, among the most remarkable views of the park, returning to Gallipoli, you can go up along the pine forest and admire the Tower of Santa Maria from the High, an ancient watchtower, located 50 meters above sea level, on a rocky spur overlooking the beach, from which you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the entire natural park. The tower was erected in the second half of the 16th century and was part of an elaborate system of defensive turrets spread over the entire Salento coast, communicating to the north with Torre Uluzzo and to the south with Torre Santa Caterina. This system of turrets represents a historical heritage of the Salento area, but in a certain sense it is also an emotional heritage for the local population, as each of these turrets marks the landscape of the Salento coast in a unique way, we will talk about it in more detail with another article on this blog.

Speaking of history, the Porto Selvaggio Natural Park, in addition to the landscape treasure and the possibilities for sports of various kinds, also offers unmissable opportunities for archeology enthusiasts: eight different archaeological sites in the cave have been identified within the park , a sign of presence first by Neanderthal groups and subsequently by Sapiens, and the territory of the Municipality of Nardò is the center of an extraordinary "district of prehistory", with a historical stratification ranging from Neanderthal and Sapiens frequentations to those left by Messapi and then later by the Romans, up to the baroque architecture of the historic center of the same municipality. The Museum of Prehistory of Nardò, located in the former convent of Sant’Antonio da Padova, preserves most of the finds from archaeological research conducted in the area.

This wonderful natural oasis is located on the side of the Salento coast that faces west and therefore those who are there at sunset will see the sun slowly sink into the sea, we therefore recommend that you end your day in Porto Selvaggio with an aperitif in one of the numerous bars or kiosks between the natural oasis and Gallipoli, you will end a simply perfect day at the beach.

The heritage of architectural eclecticism in Salento: the Moorish palaces

In architecture, “eclecticism” is defined as a current that aims at mixing the best stylistic elements present in the various architectural movements. The movement was born in England in 1700, then in the following century it spread widely to the rest of Europe, eventually reaching southern Italy as well. In its initial phase, European architectural eclecticism drew its ideas from different historical periods, with the birth of neo-Greek architecture, followed by the neo-Renaissance and then by the neo-baroque, but over the years the interpreters of eclecticism sought the their inspiration not elsewhere in time but in space, in the architecture of distant and exotic places, hence the Neo-Moorish and Neo-Egyptian architecture, but there was also no lack of Chinese and Indian influences.

What we will look at more closely is the neo-Moorish style, which left splendid traces in the Salento peninsula, but which arrived in the West primarily in France, following Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798, and later developed in England and in other European countries, also due to colonialism in the East. Among the most distinctive elements of Moorish architecture we note the presence of circular domes, generally surmounted by a pointed spire, the use of bright colors and a large amount of intricate decorative motifs.

One of the most shining examples of this style in Salento is undoubtedly Villa Sticchi in Santa Cesarea Terme, a splendid building set in one of the most beautiful corners of the entire southern coast of the Adriatic, majestic and immediately recognizable even from far away, for reasons functional as well as aesthetic: the imposing central pagoda, in fact, which makes its profile so unmistakable, at the time was also designed to reflect the sunlight and become a beacon for ships sailing off the coast. This private residence can be considered a real icon of the local area, it was completed in 1894 on the ambitious project of the engineer Giuseppe Ruggeri, who signed many other Moorish residences on the two coasts of Salento, including the one he occupied as his own residence. in Leuca, or Villa La Meridiana, with an octagonal plan and also unmistakable from the outside due to its lively red and yellow parallel bands.

Another very interesting case is that of the “Eclectic Villas of the Cenate”, which take their name from the place where they were built, the Cenate in fact. These stately villas were designed and built between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the next, in the midst of the "eclectic period" and we can admire them on the roads that lead from Nardò to the marinas of Santa Maria al Bagno and Santa Caterina. Walking or cycling through these country roads suddenly, in the middle of the characteristic olive trees, these precious baroque villas appear, in Art Nouveau style or even here in neo-Moorish style, as in the case of the beautiful Villa Saetta (now De Michele) and Villa Cristina dei Personè (now De Benedittis).

This desire to experiment and enrich the local landscape with exotic motifs and shapes was not limited to the coast but also took hold in the city of Lecce, only that while for the summer residences you could indulge yourself in the decorations, especially with the colors, city ​​eclecticism took on less pronounced tones. In Lecce, however, there are some examples of nineteenth-century villas resulting from the architectural eclecticism of the period, almost all along the avenues created at the end of the nineteenth century in place of the newly demolished sixteenth-century walls. Interesting for the variety of architectural characters is Villa Bray, in neo-Moorish style, with an inscription in Arabic characters under the cornice, decorated with horizontal yellow and red bands: on the first floor the windows have horseshoe arches, on the second the arches are Byzantines, on the pointed arch gate. Villa Indraccolo also has oriental-style decorations. Another example of eclecticism declined according to local taste is Villa Himera, whose friezes are carved in Lecce stone.