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Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Slow-Travel Road Trip in Italy: Puglia and Basilicata - Page 5

Written by Russ & Emily Firlik
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Slow travel for us, equals active learning. We motored to Italy’s easternmost town, up the coast of the Adriatic to the seaside town of Otranto for three days. The center is still enclosed within the 1400’s fortified walls. With its turquoise waters and sandy beaches, seafront promenades, restaurants, could anyone ask for more? All the same, for the love of art and history, this was the town! One of the largest 12th century mosaic floors in Europe was in the Romanesque Cathedral of Otranto.

We found another aspect of art history that required us to do some serious learning, that was, the genius of the Tree of Life mosaic found in the cathedral. This mosaic is one of the most important examples of 12th century art. The representation of the Tree of Life, the idea that all of Earth is interconnected: forests made up of individual trees; the branches of each one link together to combine their life force to prove a home for thousands of different flora and fauna. From what we gathered, the Celts who inhabited much of Europe in pre-Roman times, believed that humans came from trees, actually 15 % of our DNA is the same as trees. They viewed trees as magical, guardians of the land and doorway to the spiritual world. The myth symbolizes strength, wisdom, longevity and rebirth. Other religions and cultures embrace the Tree of Life, e.g., Mayans, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Incidentally, in the Old Testament, the Tree of Life is described as “being in the midst of the Garden of Eden.” Furthermore, was it not Charles Darwin who first used the “tree of life” in modern biology? Simply put, the Tree of Life demonstrates the evolutionary relationships among groups. This was beautifully illustrated within the mosaics. Herein was our message: “Have the experience, but find the meaning.”

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A word about parking in historical centers - Don’t if Possible! The Middle Ages lanes, with buildings smack on these lanes, coupled with the limited number of metered “blue lined” spaces, very few “white line” spaces, or free spaces, makes one a bit confused. Sometimes we're just lucky, but most of the time we arrive early in the morning, or later in the day for parking spaces near the center. By arriving on Sunday to the historic center of Otranto was wise, as we found a parking space on the metered “blue line.” A twenty minute walk to the church of San Pietro lie straight on. This was definitely one of our focuses in Otranto. The San Pietro is a rare example of a Byzantine (9th century) church, with amazing 10th and 11th century frescoes that awaits the curious slow travelers. We were told that this church is testimony to the Byzantine domination in the “Land of Otranto.” After that mind alternating experience, we spent the rest of the day watching people at the Deja vu Cafe, along the huge Piazza, Porto Terra, on the banks of the Adriatic Sea.

Another warm day in Otranto, as we investigated the original 1087 castle. Their massive walls surround the entire historic center. The castle has been neatly restored, and many of the rooms are used for expositions, conferences and meetings. Accordingly, this castle in some ways defies the general Italian dilemma, that is, amazing and masterfully built structures, but lack of usability. For example, a special exhibit was aimed at an extraordinary 20th century Italian School of Futurism. The school includes founder, F.T. Marinetti, Giorgio de Chirico and Giacometti Balla. A number of selections represented art and cultural revolutions of the twentieth century. This was possible through ideas and intellectual relationships between poets, writers, musicians, together to create a multifaceted and highly imaginary 20th century of art and culture. An authentic effort to use the available space in the castle to perfection.

Looking ahead, after Otranto, what could be more exciting than what we had already experienced? There were so many of the towns and cities we visited in Puglia, with historical and cultural significance, that dates back to antiquity- even before the Greeks.

Up and out early with the very warm sea breeze at our backs, we noticed as we were driving north to our destination, the expansive olive groves, umbrella pines and eucalyptus trees, and vineyards, that are so typical of the region. In two hours we found our AirBnb, which lies within the center of the coastal city of Brindisi (pop. 90,000), the capital of the province of Brindisi. We used Brindisi as our home-base for the next two days. We planned Brindisi for its walkability, long strolls along Corso Garibaldi, and its laid-back lifestyle along the waterfront of the Adriatic Sea. We were fortunate to find a parking space on the street, and for two days of not having to use the Peugeot. Our plan was to examine the Ancient Greek settlements, Roman Monuments, the 11th century Duomo, a 13th century castle, church of San Benedetto, and the National Archaeological Museum.

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Brindisi is a major shipping port of trade with Greece and the Middle East, has chemical plants and is the leader in the production of electricity in Italy. It also has important archaeological monuments & beaches and many Italian tourists (75% versus 25% foreign). Brindisi appears to prosper. In addition, the largest non-Italian ethnic group community is Albanian. During the 1990’s, Brindisi received a wave of Albanian immigrants who made a way of life there. Interestingly, there used to be an American military base near Brindisi, and a number of Americans stayed, as was reported to us while having a super lunch at the visitors’ go-to-place, called “Betty Cafe,” We also spoke to a few British folks that talked about the presence of British here in Brindisi. The result of recent pensioners buying villas in the countryside; you can easily understand their motive to live here.

We learned a little more about Brindisi’s excellent cuisine: simple ingredients of flour or barley, seasonal vegetables and fruits, snails, blue fish, rice baked potatoes, fish soup, and pasta. We enjoyed some of the regional red wines of Puglia, such as the reds of Negroamaro and Primitivo, and the whites of Greco Bianca and Verdeca.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 July 2020

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