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The charming “white city” Castled on a hill overlooking the Adriatic, it has a not-to-be-missed old town centre with white houses, noble palazzos, Baroque railings, churches and shops, cafés and little restaurants…
History, prehistory and folklore in the shade of the statue of Saint Oronzo, patron saint of the town by Lino Patruno
Ostuni (Brindisi). Photo Archivio Fotogramma
At the cost of risking excommunication from the land of bell-towers, Ostuni is the loveliest old town centre in Puglia. So lovely it bowls you over. If one night a traveller arrived here with a camera, he wouldn’t know where to start focussing, there are so many corners, perspectives, nooks and crannies. Amidst alleyways and steps, courtyards and little squares, passages and winding streets, arches and balconies, terraces and chimneys, Ostuni is a dizzying blaze of limestone walls. Thus the “white city”, brushstrokes of candour from the ancient peasant culture and the sense of nestling up in the rarefied air.
For someone who comes in from the sea, Ostuni resembles the spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in Spielberg’s movie, ready to set off towards the infinite, all round and shiny in its mighty walls. Up there, at its 240 meters, Ostuni stands like a refuge against the blast of the sultriness that lands on the long beaches below it, where, well peopled but discrete, lie the villages of Rosa Marina and Monticelli, before the noisy tourist supermarket of Villanova, the ancient Roman harbour.
So, in the summer months, it is an incessant excitable swarming in the dizziness of the Earth. It is the mediaeval old town center, here embellished by arabesques on grotto-houses one on top of the other, there snobbishly boasting unexpected noble palazzos once belonging to the great Spanish families, coats-of-arms, mawkish gates, vintage street-lamps, Baroque railings, churches and fountains. And then of course the colourful litany of a myriad shops and smart cafés, and restaurants aplenty to the joy of the traveller who is looking for his little spot under the starlit sky after the spree in the sunshine and in the wonderful sea.
But Ostuni is also the large heart of Piazza della Libertà, parade ground of the sacred fury of sunburnt youth. Here life never stops, the deep night seething beneath the broad Mediterranean skies charged with goodness. Here the glow from the bars, the decibels of the music, the insolent hip movement of the girls in their prime and the chatter of the encounters may well be responsible for Saint Oronzo’s frown, as, from on high, the patron saint of this town and of Lecce gazes down, back slightly bent with the infirmities of old age, on his highly ornate column.
The fact is, if this square throbs then all of Ostuni does, too. But then, it would take a lot to put off a saint who in 1657 did not surrender even to the plague. Just the opposite; he was so energetic in his battle with the Black Death that he was considered worthy not only of promotion to patron saint, but also of an annual re-enactment of those days. It’s the Cavalcata of the 26th August, taking the silver statue around and up and down dizzying heights, escorted by cavaliers dressed in the uniforms of the time.
Good Saint Oronzo sees needs and provides for them, because, to be perfectly honest, he knows very well that youth is nothing to the centuries of the stupendous former monastery from the 12th century which is now the town hall, the long corridors and the rooms of the councillors in the monks’ cells so that they behave themselves. And the Public Library, one of the most important in the region, over 60 thousand volumes mainly from the mid 19th century closure of the monasteries: the Tabula Peutingeriana from the 12th/13th century is precious, one of the oldest maps in the world.
Incredible Ostuni, between the future of the computerized youth and the ancient history of its cathedral (a national monument, Gothic-Romanic, 1400). But above all of the moving pre-history of Delia: she was twenty, her bones curled up, a shell bracelet round her wrist, her hands protecting the child in her womb. She lived about 25 thousand years ago and was found in a cave in the infinite countryside of olive trees and masserie and trulli on the boundless horizon.
Delia too is part of the fable of Ostuni, where there is no entry for those who don’t have eyes to see, as the inscription in front of the old house of art, poetry music and dance says. Because Ostuni can blind those who don’t know how to look.
WHERE: Ostuni (BR)