The nice town of Merine, an administrative division of the municipality of Lizzanello and one of the biggest in the entire province of Lecce, still preserves the ancient simplicity which used to be shared by such rural communities without defensive fortifications. You will be stunned by the maze of roads and alleys connected to the main square, which features the two main buildings responsible for the town’s urban development.
The first one is the Mother church dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie, with its distinctive bell gable and short houses lying around it. The second one is the baronial palace, whose façade displays a long row of windows and eighteenth-century portal decorated with bosses. A few steps off-centre, the palace is protected by a fortified line of tower-houses.
It will take you a few steps into Via Montenegro to experience both the tragedies suffered by the people of Lizzanello during the Saracen attacks – which targeted Lecce between the 16th and 18th centuries – and the privileged life of the rich aristocratic families, the only ones who could afford to build fortified homes. These homes are one-of-a-kind examples, in the whole Valle della Cupa, of civil buildings deploying military defence systems such as their tower-like structures or the machicolations built over windows and doorways. However, if you look at the religious buildings in a bit more detail, you will notice how even the Chiesa dell’Assunta – the “Church of the Assumption” – resembles a defence tower, with its machicolations added on the top levels of the building.
Between the town’s castle and Mother Church, you will be able to spot the column dedicated to the Assunta – the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – which is strongly visited on the 14th and 15th of August, the days during which Assumed Mary is celebrated.
Another column with a stone cross on its top lies in front of the late-eighteenth-century Chapel of the Vergine di Costantinopoli. What you are looking at here is a monument dating back to the Bronze Age, as it is the only menhir still standing as a whole, if compared to the many others that have been found in the area.
During the summer, the town of Merine also celebrates the Festa te lu Ranu, the town festival dedicated to the wheat and all its variations, an example of local folklore and tradition. You will be certainly blown away by this event, in which you could learn more about how wheat is grown and cooked, what the local ingredients are, and especially how the local products taste when they are produced between the wheat’s first and second processing cycles.