This artistic itinerary looks deeply into the karst land of Valle della Cupa and connects all its towns, explores all its baroque churches, medieval fortresses, aristocratic buildings, goes deep into its inner roads and paths, which diverge all into these towns’ main squares, where temporal and spiritual power merge together, where citizens and foreigners aggregate and share their history.
You will walk through a route that winds its way through inner town centres, with their characteristic houses overlooking the square, their tower houses, their fine balconies, their elaborate portals and ancient castles turned into fancy aristocratic manors between the 16th and 18th centuries. Here you can even admire churches which still feature wisely chiselled baroque altars made with Lecce’s traditional limestone.
The itinerary’s starting point will be Merine with its SS. Maria Assunta square displaying the sober architectonic style of the Church of S. Maria delle Grazie and the aesthetical consistency of Palmieri-Majola palace. They both fit perfectly in the middle of a tower-houses system developed between 16th and 18th century.
Just four km to the North you will find Lizzanello and the Mother Church of S. Lorenzo with its two-eyed bell gable, a rare example of a sacred fortified building in the Salento area. A few steps from there, you can admire the Paladini palace with its corner tower featuring defensive machicolations and big ornamental mascarons.
After a few km to the North-West you will enter Cavallino’s monumental Castromediano square. You will be able to spot it from a great distance thanks to the high eighteenth-century bell tower and the small bulbous dome on top of it which is part of the Church of SS. Maria Assunta, in which the cenotaph to Francesco Castromediano and Beatrice Acquaviva d’Aragona is housed. If you proceed along the same direction, you will reach the impressive Ducal palace, a unique example of local architecture with a façade enclosed within two lateral bodies, which resemble the fifteenth-century fortified towers.
Eight kilometers to the South you will then discover the small town of Galugnano. Here, you will admire the Mother Church of Maria SS. Immacolata, which still features the original eighteenth-century rose window on its façade, and the Dellanos palace with its elegant entrance portal.
Just a stone’s throw away from Galugnano, you can visit San Donato’s baronial palace, a fortified home with a courtyard and a arched loggia that is defined by pillars embellished with acanthus leaf and pomegranate fruits. You will then visit the Chiesa Matrice della Risurrezione del Signore, the Mother Church of San Donato, built in the Romanesque period but completely rebuilt in the 17th century.
Seven km from here, you will reach San Cesario’s town centre, where the Ducal palace stands with its tripartite structure and its enchanting niches housing statues and busts. The palace is home to the Civic Museum of Contemporary Art and overlooks the once marginal Garibaldi square, which became the main town square only after the Mother Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie was built in the 17th century.
Three km to the west you will reach the nearby town of Lequile, precisely Via Roma, where you can visit both the Saluzzo palace, with its main portal and its decorative huge bosses, and the Mother Church of Maria SS. Assunta, designed by the baroque architect Mauro Manieri.
This itinerary will then end in San Pietro in Lama, with the Church of Santa Maria dell’Assunta, embellished with a traditional baroque façade, divided into two orders by pilasters, and enriched with the statues of apostles Pietro e Paolo.
However, these towns have much more to offer you than just their historic buildings: Valle della Cupa is the land of flavours and knowledge, made up of artisans skilled in both food and crafts. This land’s towns are full of brilliant artists, who have always worked and processed raw materials, mainly the ones available in the area, from Lecce stone to clay to iron, to paper and fabrics. And don’t forget about the land’s natural produce – wheat, olives, grapes, vegetables, fruit – which have been wisely grown and nurtured for ages with ancient techniques, and this is the secret of the unique culinary heritage Valle della Cupa has to offer.