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Gallipoli, la città Bella

Gallipoli rises out of the sea in a splendid position. It is surrounded by high walls, which protected it down the centuries from the attacks of invaders from the East. The Greek "beautiful town" was originally inhabited by the Messapii, who called it Anxa, according to Pliny. Later, it became a Greek colony (Kale polis, beautiful town), and ruled over vast territories, coining its own currency, until it was subdued by the Romans in 265 B.C. and became a military station and later a municipality.

The Trajan Way joined the town to Brindisi and its strategic importance rapidly increased. Gallipoli was a Bishopric from 551 B.C. onwards, and the Byzantines made it their main naval stronghold on the Ionian sea, strengthening its defences. Despite this, it was frequently attacked by the Saracens, who finally occupied it around 915 and held control for more than 30 years.

A strong Islamic influence is to be seen in the layout of the town, in the typically winding streets and white houses. The latter are well protected and are also built round courtyards, a common feature of the architecture of Mediterranean countries. With the coming of the Normans, the Dior. cese of Gallipoli once more came under the jurisdiction of Rome, although the Greek rites were celebrated until 1513.

The town's history is similar to that of other Apulian towns, insofar as it was ruled one after the other by the Swabians, Angevins and Aragonese. Despite this, it managed to keep its mercantile tradition alive. Under Spanish domination it enjoyed a period of peace and was embellished with churches and noble residences. The golden age of the Salentine Baroque had begun: the Castle was restored, the Cathedral rebuilt and repair work in the town got under way.
Up to the end of the XVIII century, the town was limited to the boundaries of its small island, but extension became necessary due to the rapid growth of its population. The new quarter, built to a grid plan in the XVIII century, overflowed onto the small peninsula which points out into the Ionian sea. Today it is necessary to traverse this quarter in order to reach the old town, across the bridge which spans the isthmus. To the right one can see the large port, which today, as in the past, makes a valid contribution to the trade and economy of the town, and to that of the whole of the Salento peninsula.

The so-called Fontana Ellenistica (Grecian Fountain) bears witness to the town's Grecian past. It was rebuilt in 1560 and recently restored. The XVI century Castle incorporates the earlier Angevin fortifications and is made up of a lunette surmounted by a round tower and a quadrangular keep with towers at its corners.
The Castle is a good starting point for a tour of the town. Walking down Via De Pace, one reaches the Cathedral dedicated to S. Agatha, a fine example of the Salentine Baroque which was begun in 1630. The splendid façade was completed in 1696 and a number of important paintings from a XVII-XVIII century Salentine school hang inside the walls.

Most of the churches in Gallipoli are not far from the sea and seem to stand over the town as if to protect it. These include the splendid Della Punka Church, richly decorated in stucco, its walls hung with exceptionally large paintings. The San Domenico, or Del Rosario, church (1696), contains paintings by Gian Domenico Catalano. Three other churches of note are the Delle Anime, Del Crocifisso and S. Francesco. The spate of building which took place during the Baroque period included buildings not for religious purposes, such as the XVII century Palazzo Venneri, with a Renaissance portal, and the elegant Palazzo Tafuri.

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