Throughout Mediterranean Europe, as well as in many areas of North and South America and also elsewhere in the world, there are large rural buildings, known by various names: hacienda, ranch, farm, baglio, the Catalan masia or precisely the masseria, typical of Southern Italy, which we will deal with in this article.

These buildings had common characteristics: large spaces, the presence of internal courtyards, very often used as an orchard and also used as a farmyard for poultry, stables and large spaces used for the conservation or production of food. Obviously, wells and cisterns could not be missing and often there were increasingly advanced tools and technologies, such as the oil mills that were supplied to many of these buildings in Southern Italy. Wells and oil mills were also often made available to inhabitants outside the farm, which therefore became the most important meeting and social center of all the neighboring areas.

From the fourteenth century onwards, after the first imports of tobacco into Europe and with the increasing diffusion of the various uses of this plant, tobacco factories, generally smaller in size and more elementary in their size, obviously spread across the continent alongside the farms. structure, but they too survived the industrialization of tobacco production and were reborn as valuable housing units. In Castrignano del Capo, for example, you can admire the Antico Tabacchificio local, dating back to the nineteenth century, with an enviable position, halfway between the town and the splendid seaside resort of “le Felloniche”, and with an elegant architecture in full harmony with the surrounding countryside, a clear example of an ancient agricultural production center destined to become a residential unit of absolute value.

The fact that more or less buildings of this type can be found all over the world is due to their common origin, that is, the large landholdings, known to us as “estates”, which for many centuries have been the only production model. farming around the world. The large owner, who often lived in the few inhabited centers that existed at the time, far from the cultivations, granted the peasants (in our case called “massari”) the possibility of living in these buildings, which served as the final center of production and conservation of agricultural products. Sometimes, however, the owner lived on the farm together with the peasants and in this case the architecture of the building reflected the difference in status of its inhabitants, with the owner family who lived on the upper floors or in the central buildings and the peasants relegated to the lower floors. or in peripheral structures.

Where the historical events and the conflicts that followed required it, the farms were fortified and also became bulwarks against foreign invasion; in Salento for example, after the Turkish invasion of 1480, King Charles V decided to strengthen the defense of the territory, arranging the construction or renovation of existing buildings, equipping them with towers for sighting of enemies and fortified fences. In the Salento peninsula, therefore, there are several, the Masseria Torre Casciani, the Masseria Melcarne and the Masseria Torcito, surrounded by a very rich vegetation and much loved by the local citizens for the possibility of hiking and picnics, just to name a few.

A separate note deserve the farms in some way connected to the Roman Church or to ancient noble families related to it, which were entrusted and managed by monastic or knightly orders, in these obviously there was always a small chapel to await the daily religious functions. that marked the day. In the Municipality of Surbo the splendid Masseria Schiavelle survives the decay, of which one can still admire the severe architecture halfway between the residential and the military complex.

The production model based on large estates was the only one known all over the world until almost the twentieth century, when a progressive democratization of agricultural production and therefore also of the society that revolved around it, together with the evolution of production, conservation and of the commercialization of agricultural products, it has broken up and divided the estates making the farms and other architectures similar to them obsolete and useless for large-scale agricultural production; from this moment the destiny of these structures has changed, in some cases they have been condemned to a slow ruin, to abandonment or conversion into anonymous warehouses, but fortunately they have become more and more luxurious homes. , and gradually more and more appreciated and requested. The transformation was often easy, as the farms were built already from their origin taking into account a certain aesthetic and architectural taste, thanks to the skill of craftsmen and masons who worked stone, carparo or tuff. Very often these were buildings built with a view to functionality, to make life in the fields less difficult and therefore to ease the fatigue of the settlers, offer practical solutions and ensure maximum usability of the environments, respecting a certain balance between man and nature, between the building and the territory, but the aesthetic taste of the masters of the time always added something to these needs for balance and functionality, such as the façades whose solemnity can remind us of a church rather than an ordinary home. Many examples of this precious architecture can be seen around the Salento countryside, for example the Masseria Santa Barbara, which we recommend you admire on your next visit to the town of Otranto.