A favorite among locals and tourists alike, Otranto is quaint port town of whitewashed houses jutting out into the turquoise waters of the Adriatic. Although known today for its winding cobblestone streets lined with shops and its hopping night scene, it has been an epicenter of culture for millennia. Inhabited since Paleolithic times, one can find ruins from an array of civilizations past: the Messapians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Goths, Normans, Swabians and Kingdom of Aragon have all left their mark on the city.
During Medieval times it was a city of supreme importance, serving as a gateway between east and west. It was during this time, in 1480 to be precise, that the infamous Ottoman invasion of Otranto took place, where the 800 “martyrs of Otranto” were ultimately executed for refusing to convert to Islam. Their bones can still be found on display in the Otranto Cathedral, which, despite the eerie imagery, is one of the gems of this ancient city. Dating back to the 11th century, it boasts frescoes from the Middle Ages to throughout the 16th century, as well as a magnificent mosaic floor that runs throughout the entire length of the nave, depicting the “Tree of Life” as well as scenes from the Old Testament.