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Martina Franca , la città del festival della Valle D'itria

In the tenth century the coastal town of Taranto suffered attacks by the Saracens, and a number of its citizens fled the city to found a new town on the hill of San Martino.

In 1300 a prince of Taranto Filippo (Philip of Anjou) granted the town rights and franchises to those who lived or moved there and the name Martina Franca was born from the fiscal immunities the town now enjoyed. The town was fortified with defensive walls and a castle.

Early in the sixteenth century it bacame a duchy of Caracciolo, a Napolitan family, but a century and a half later in 1646 a feud between the town and its masters started, which was to last two hundred years until the extinction of the Caracciolo family line in 1827.

Today Martina is the most elegant town of central Puglia, with many graceful Baroque and Rococo buildings inside the walls of the centro storico.

Just outside the walls is the 15th century gothic church of S. Antonio, and across the Piazza XX Septembre stands the tall Porta S. Antonio, the principal gateway to the old town centre.

Inside the gate is the green Piazza Roma, dominated by the Palazzo Ducale, built for the Caracciolo family in 1668, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and occupying the site of the earlier castle. The building now serves as the town hall, but parts of the elegant interior are open to the public including magnificent rooms painted by the artist Domenico Carella, and it serves as an indoor venue for the prestigious summer classical music festival.

A narrow street winds down past charming 17th and 18th century townhouses to the Collegiata or collegiate church, the baroque Basilica of S. Martino, the patron saint of the town. Built in the mid 18th century this is the most imposing building in the town, with a fine frontage, dominated by a sculptural group of Saint Martin and a beggar, overlooking the Piazza Plebiscito.

From this square it is possible to explore the narrow alleyways and streets of the town, the Palazzos giving way to whitewashed houses of humbler origin. Near the Basilica is the church of San Domenico and Domenican convent, and outside the walls to the north-west is the large carmelite church Chiesa del Carmine, with panoramic views from to the Itria Valley, with its trulli, neat stone walls and vineyards.

The Itria Valley gives its name to a festival of music in July, which has an international reputation, and specialises in promoting the neglected works of forgotten, lesser-known or local classical composers.

Another of Martina's claims to fames is its white wine, which is available from local cantinas. Apart from vineyards, the local landscape contains many reminders of the thick oak forest which once covered the area, including the beautiful regional park of


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