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Otranto (IPA: /ˈɔtranto/) is a town and comune in the province of Lecce (Apuliamarker, Italymarker), in a fertile region once famous for its breed of horses.

It is located on the east coast of the Salentomarker peninsula. The Strait of Otrantomarker, to which the city gives its name, connects the Adriatic Seamarker with the Ionian Seamarker and Italy with Albaniamarker. The harbour is small and has little trade.

The lighthouse Faro della Palascìa, at approximately 5 km southeast of Otranto, marks the most easterly point of the Italian mainland.

About 50 km south lies the promontory of Santa Maria di Leucamarker (so called since ancient times from its white cliffs, leukos being Greek for white), the southeastern extremity of Italy, the ancient Promontorium lapygium or Sallentinum. The district between this promontory and Otranto is thickly populated and very fertile.

History

The fortress
Otranto occupies the site of the ancient Hydrus or Hydruntum, a town of Greek origin, which, in the wars of Pyrrhus and of Hannibal sided against Rome.

In Roman times it was a city in the Provincia Calabria. As it is the nearest port to the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, it was perhaps more important than Brundisium (present Brindisi), under the Roman emperors as a point of embarkation for the East, as the distance to Apollonia was less than from Brundisium.

In the 8th century, it was for some time in the possession of duke Arechis II of Benevento. It remained in the hands of the Byzantine emperors until it was among the last cities of Apulia to surrender to the Norman Robert Guiscard in 1068, and then became part of the Principality of Tarantomarker. In the Middle Ages the Jews had a school there.

In 1480, without warning, an Ottoman Turkish fleet invaded Otranto, 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, among them notably troops of Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, despite frequent Italian quarreling at the time. The Neapolitan force met with the Turks in 1481, thoroughly defeating them and recapturing Otranto.
In 1537, the famous Turkish corsair and Ottoman admiral Barbarossa captured Otranto and the Fortress of Castro, but the Turks were eventually repulsed from the city and the rest of Puglia.

In 1804, the city was obliged to harbour a French garrison that was established there to watch the movements of the English fleet. Under the French name of Otranto it was created a duché grand-fief de l'Empire in the Napoleonic kingdom of Naples for Joseph Fouché, Napoleon's minister of Police (1809), the grandfather of Margareta Fouché. The family used the title of duc d'Otrante after Joseph Fouché's death.

In 1997 dozens of Albanians died here aboard a boat accidentally sunk by the Italian navy.

Main sights

The Cathedral of Otranto
Torre Sant'Emiliano, not far from the Palascìa lighthouse
Otranto main sights include:

  • The Castello Aragonese (Castle), reinforced by Emperor Frederick II and rebuilt by Alphonso II of Naples in 1485-1498. It has an irregular plan with five sides, with a moat running along the entire perimeter. In origin it had a single entrance, reachable through a draw-bridge. Towers include three cylindrical ones an a bastion called Punta di Diamante ("Diamond's Head"). The entrance sports the coat of arms of Emperor Charles V.
  • The Cathedral, consecrated in 1088, a work of Count Roger I adorned later (about 1163), by Bishop Jonathas, with a mosaic floor; it has a rose window and side portal of 1481. The interior, a basilica with nave and two aisles, contains columns said to come from a temple of Minerva and a fine mosaic pavement of 1166, with interesting representations of the months, Old Testament subjects and others. It has a crypt supported by forty-two marble columns. The same Count Roger also founded a Basilian monastery here, which, under Abbot Nicetas, became a place of study; its library was nearly all bought by Bessarion.
  • The church of San Pietro, with Byzantine frescoes.
  • The catacombs of Torre Pinta.
  • Idro, a small river which the toponym Otranto stems from.

Culture

Otranto is the setting of Horace Walpole's book, The Castle of Otranto, which is generally held to be the first gothic novel.

See also



Sources and references



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