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Places
Mattinata
Nature, history and tradition
in the Mediterranean light
Loved and celebrated by the poets, the Gargano town includes, among its coasts, the breathtaking landscape of Baia delle Zagare.
Its territory is possessed of a magic such that the author is induced to define it “the Tibet of the Mediterranean”, and is rich in archaeological and historical testimony
by Lino Patruno
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Mattinata (Foggia). Bay of Viganotica.
One of the charming corners of the Gargano.
Photo Archivio Fotogramma

      The hollow of Mattinata sul Gargano stretches out beneath a “snowfall of light”, the long pebble beach, the sheltered coves for naturists, the strips of sand for solitary landings. It is the ancient Matinum with its great past immortalized by Lucano, Horace and Pliny. Seen from above, it looks like a white butterfly in the greenery descending to the sea. With its back guarded by the nine hundred meters of Monte Saraceno, a huge mass of nummulites, single cell beings protected by disc-shaped shells resembling coins. They populated the deeps in the mists of time (Eocene, between 70 and 40 million years ago) and formed a limestone that is the same as that of the Egyptian Pyramids.

      It is said that Ettore Fieramosca precipitated from this mountain with his steed. But it is not only the valiant knight of the Barletta Challenge who causes us to speak of death. In a necropolis with five hundred tombs, the dead from six or seven centuries before Christ rest in the gentle shade of a rise to which, many centuries later, the Saracens lent their name.

      But there are a lot of archaeological zones in the area because the wealthy of Siponto used to come here not only for their holidays but for the protection of residences defended by the natural bastion as well as by the sea. Items of “once upon a time” that explain the incredible legacy are kept not in a museum, but in a pharmacy, that of Dr. Sansone, an attraction for every visitor and the fruit of fifty years of research and solitary passion without which they would have been lost.

      So an intangible thread binds history, nature and tradition in this Mattinata immersed in the Mediterranean light, “the little houses all facing the same way, a sort of kindly leper colony for the soul”. And the sea from whence we arrive prompted the art historian Cesare Brandi to say in his Viaggio in Puglia: “Suddenly I turned round and saw the sea. And it looked, with the bright, light ripples, as if it was full of fish with their mouths wide open and looking up, listening to Saint Anthony’s preaching”.

      But you can get to Mattinata from the pine woods of the hinterland, by means of tortuous lanes between the high ridges, like at Vignanotica. Or by climbing the steps in the rocks, like at Mattinatella. And what a sight it is, those imposing rocks standing like monuments that shoot out of the deeps: the most incredible and phantasmagorical at Baia delle Zagare, in the midst of the scent of citrus blossom.

      Mattinata is like the Tibet of the Mediterranean: there is always a mooring just for you, a marine grotto iridescent with reflections, a ray of sunshine waiting for you when things go wrong. Here you can still feel the suspended air of the miracle of creation being carried out. And, says poet Cristanziano Serricchio, the sea and the mountain, apparent enemies, are here “drawn together by an indefinable need for communion”. In the Mediterranean that has seen the birth of great civilizations and great religions. As the French historian Braudel said: “When we think of human completeness, at the pride and the luck of being men, our gaze turns to the Mediterranean”.

      All this is Mattinata: a corner of paradise down there, the winding town up there. As if the sea was so lovely that it was to be enjoyed, but not ruined.

WHERE: Mattinata (FG)

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