il Mosaico di Pantaleone
The Messapian city of Otranto was
held first by the Greeks and then by the Romans; its name
comes from the little river of Hydruntum which flows into
The town wielded great influence under Byzantium, when it
was the Eastern Church's main centre in the South of Italy.
The Normans, led by Robert Guiscard, managed to drive out
the Byzantines in 1068 and began to build a Cathedral. The
latter was completed in the second half of the XII century
and, after 1481, partially rebuilt. A beautiful Baroque portal
and a fine rose window from the end of the XV century grace
the facade. The interior is magnificent, its floor inlaid
with one of the largest mosaics extant, completed between
1163 and 1166 by a priest named Pantaleone.
name of Otranto is linked to the tragic events which took
place in July 1480, when a fleet of Turkish warships commanded
by Pasha Acomat beseiged the town. The Turks' bold plan was
to subdue Italy and France and join forces with the Muslims
ruling Spain; but they were caught unawares by the unexpected
resistance of the inhabitants of Otranto, who held them at
bay for fifteen days. Eventually the Muslims broke into the
town and ordered the Christians to abjure. On their refusal,
the Turks breached the Cathedral and killed Bishop Stefano
Pendinelli and all the others who had taken refuge within
800 of the townsfolk were transported to the nearby Minerva
hill and beheaded for having refused to deny their faith.
They were declared martyrs by the Church: their bones are
kept in 7 tall cabinets in the Cathedral of Otranto, and in
the church of Santa Caterina in Naples.
important church in Otranto is that of San Pietro, a X-XI
century Byzantine construction which once may possibly have
been the Cathedral. It is almost square, on a Greek-cross
plan, and is divided into three small semicircular apses.
The interior is frescoed. The Castle was built by Ferdinand
of Aragon on the site of a pre-existing fortification from
the era of Frederick II. It is lai out on a pentagonal plan
with three round towers on its corners and a speared bulwark
facing towards the sea.