From Brindisi to Mesagne there is a route rich in a history that has its roots in the Neolithic age, as witnessed by the excavation materials found in the area and now on display in the “F. Ribezzo” Provincial Archaeological Museum. This is the same area where grapes were grown to produce the robust wine praised by Pliny.
Brindisi was the end of the Appian Way and Apulian wine and oil were shipped from its port to the lands of the East. Not only did the Romans consider the city strategic. At the time of the Crusades, Brindisi was a crossroads for knights and pilgrims on their way to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. A symbol of the presence of the Teutonic, Templar and Jerusalemite military religious orders is the temple of San Giovanni al Sepolcro, a church dating back to the 11th century whose horse stirrup plan, formed by two concentric circles of columns, recalls that of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
One of the city’s other treasures is kept in the halls of the Granafei-Nervegna Palace, an imposing Renaissance building with Baroque elements: the original capital of the Roman column at the end of the Appian Way is reflected in the sea from the top of the staircase overlooking the island of Sant’Andrea. On the island, at the entrance to the outer harbour, stands the Alfonsino Castle, also known as the sea castle, to distinguish it from the Swabian-Aragonese castle in the old town, called the great or land castle.
The ancient fortress, built against attacks from the sea by the Turks and Venetians, has recently reopened for guided tours. You can also visit the symbol of the modern city, the Monumento al Marinaio, Monument to the Sailor, a gigantic reinforced concrete rudder from the top of which there is an incomparable view of Brindisi and its sea.
The area between Brindisi and Mesagne is home to the Brindisi PDO wine made from Negroamaro and an indigenous grape variety called Sussumaniello that has risked being forgotten. The countryside is also home to the delicious Brindisi artichoke, that has the PGI, Protected Geographical Indication.
Once in Mesagne, which owes its name to the fact that it is located halfway between Oria and Brindisi along the Apulian Way, the heart-shaped historic centre, once surrounded by high walls and open to the outside world through two gates, is well worth a visit. One, the Porta Grande, or the large door, still exists and serves as a monumental entrance to the old town. Porta Piccola, that is the small door, on the other hand, was demolished in the last century and a third gate, Porta Nuova, the new door, was added later.
Among the many churches, the Chiesa Matrice, the Cathedral, stands out for its majesty and elegance, an authentic Baroque jewel that looks different from the Lecce Baroque for its rigour and linearity. Another gem is the Church of Santa Maria with a façade recalling that of Santa Croce in Lecce. The symbol of the city is the Castle, first a Norman-Swabian fortress, then transformed into a noble and refined residence. The ground floor houses the “U. Granafei” Museum with exhibits from the ancient Messapian civilisation: trozzelle, ancient vases, tintinnabuli such as the small terracotta horse chosen as the symbol of the Museum and, at the end of the tour, the reconstruction of a monumental half-chamber tomb with a wealth of grave goods