"In 1480, without warning, an Ottoman Turkish fleet invaded, landing nearby the city and capturing it along with its fort. The Pope called for a crusade, with a massive force built up by Ferdinand I of Naples. The Neapolitan force met with the Turks in 1481, thoroughly annihilating them and recapturing Otranto. However, in the two battles, the city was utterly destroyed, and has never since recovered its importance since the sack of Otranto by the Turks, in which 12,000 men are said to have perished — among them, Bishop Stephen Pendinelli, who was sawn in half. A large percentage of these captured were given the choice of converting to Islam or death - none would convert, so 800 men were beheaded outside the city. The "valley of the martyrs" still recalls this dreadful event."
I haven't made it to the valley of the martys yet, but I've spent quite a bit of time in the "centro storic" or "old town" which is situated inside the walls protecting the castle (yes, the Argonese Castle still stands, and Paolo just told me that inside the castle are all of the remains of the men that were beheaded). From our condo we have a view of the castle and the sea and it looks different everytime you look at it, depending on where the sun is in the sky. It's so beautiful.
Inside the centro there are a ton of little shops selling clothes, art, food, crafts, etc. There are restraunts, bars (the Italian kind-- which means you go in, order an espresso, drink it while standing at the bar, pay 73 cents for it, and be on your way) and also the American kind where you can actually sit down and have a drink (not coffee) and watch the people as they stroll through the town. It's pretty quiet here now, since it's winter, but the days are getting nicer and nicer (I'd say the average tempature now is about 55 degrees), and the town is starting to come alive.
Since the weather has started to get warmer, vendors selling fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers off carts have started to line the street along the sea. People are making day trips on the weekend to walk through the town, have lunch or dinner, and spend time shopping or walking along the water. There are also stores opened year round selling fresh fish (pescheria), fresh bread (pannetteria), fruit and vegetables, and sweets and coffee galore. There is scuba diving, and a ferry boat to Albania in the summer, and there are numberous festivals that take place once the weather gets warm. There is a small park in the middle of town with rides for kids, and stands selling fresh nuts, cotton candy, and other handmade sweets.
There is a small beach, and a marina, and lots of cliffs and rocky areas in which people also set up camp for days at the sea. Apparently sand isn't as important to them. I'm going to try to post some pictures directly into the blog--these aren't my own, I've taken some but not enough to post yet. And next time I'll write about a typical day here. It's really different than the US. Both good and bad. But, the one thing I can say for sure is, I have never lived in a place as beautiful as this. Even the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City don't come close.
It's Italy afterall...
A house in the Old Town
A View of the Sea from the Castle
Another view from the castle