Located by the western shores of the Salento peninsular in the bay of Taranto on the Ionian sea, the founding of Gallipoli has been attributed to both colonists from Crete under their leader Idomeneus and alternatively the local Messapian inhabitants.
Either way, Gallipoli expanded and grew to be a powerful and prosperous colony in the region of Greek influence comprising the Magna Grecia of pre-Roman Southern Italy.
Originally named Kalé Pòlis (Beautiful town) the first settlement was constructed on the small island just off-shore which today comprises the Old Town.
In 265 AD it unsuccessfully sided with King Pyrrhus in his campaigns against the early Roman Republic and thereafter suffered the penalty of passing into the Republics control, first as a Roman colony until finally being granted Municipium status under the later Empire.
The regional agonies suffered during the fall of the Western Roman Empire began for Gallipoli in 450 AD when it was pillaged by the Vandals on their way to attack Rome. Ostrogoths later took it into their control, and it was sacked by the Goths before the Byzantine Empire captured it and subsequently rebuilt it, fortified it and developed its harbour thus increasing its trade and prosperity.
It enjoyed relative peace under the Norman occupation and afterwards under the Holy Roman Emperors of Frederick Barbarossa and his son Manfredi, thriving to become a major trading port and important economic influence in the area.
Its peaceful period was short lived however, and in common with many towns of the area it suffered from the deprivations of the great regional powers of the Middle Ages, as the Aragonese, Saracens, Anjou, Spanish, French and Venetians who, with various degrees of success, repeatedly attacked and besieged, fought and squabbled for control over the city whose harbours and port were the magnet that drew such unwelcome attentions.
Managing throughout all these tribulations to maintain a thriving trade in lamp oils, it became the major trading port for Olive oil in the Mediterranean before it passed into the Kingdom of Naples and the two Sicilys under the Bourbon monarchy.
Incorporated after a plebiscite into the unification of Italy in 1861, today Gallipoli is known as “The Pearl of the Salento” and nowadays it supports a thriving fishing trade and has huge tourism revenues.
The New town and the inshore island containing the Old town are linked by a 16th century bridge – the Ponte Citta Vecchia – which separates the two harbours.
The approach across the bridge to the Old Town is dominated by the imposing Byzantine Castle built in the 13th century but expanded and enlarged by the Aragonese in the 1500’s, unfortunately it is not possible to visit the castle, as it is the headquarters of the regional Guarda Finanza. (Tax Police)
The rocky shoreline trodden under by the huge walled fortifications on the south and western ramparts of the Old town, give way to a sandy foreshore beach sheltering in front of the seawalls on the north side, which in summer is be-decked with parasols and sun worshiping holidaymakers.
The ancient Romano-Greek Ellinistic fountain reputed to date originally from the 3rd century BC is located just inside the Old town after the bridge. A short walk from here brings one up to the islands centre and the magnificent Baroque Cathedral of Santa Agata ( Saint Agatha) built in 1629 on the site of the 12th century San Giovanni Crisostomo, situated close to the equally impressive 17th century Clock tower, Torre dell’Orologio.
The town has many attractive sights and shops and a couple of hours should be sufficient to explore the island by foot, with the opportunity to refresh in one of the many cafes, ice-cream parlours etc or a more substantial break in the range of trattoria and restaurants which serve a plethora of local dishes and excellent seafood.
The towns Patrons Saints day is on the 23rd of July when a procession of boats from the harbours ply the waves, after which, that evening and the following day, celebrations and fireworks mark the Feast of Santa Christina
- La Sirene, (seafood & local cuisine) Located in the Old Town on the waters edge, and the possibility of dining whilst enjoying stunning sunsets across the Ionian sea.
- Trattoria Portolano (seafood & local cuisine) Riviera Cristoforo Colombo, 65 Located in the Old town overlooking the port, keep to the right after crossing the bridge then up a flight of steps.