Castellaneta rises up in the heart of the Parco Regionale delle Gravine, in the middle of a varied landscape, characterized by sea and hills. The town is famous for being the hometown of the actor Rudolph Valentino, the first Hollywood icon, well known all over the world.
Altitude: 235 m
GPS: 40°38′00″N 16°56′00″E
Castellaneta is surrounded by an heterogeneous territory stretching from the Taranto Murgia to the Ionian sea, characterized by gorgeous landscapes and historical and archaeological remains. It is made up of an historic town centre, a seaside hamlet – Castellaneta Marina- and various rural suburbs. Castellaneta Marina is in the middle of an uncontaminated centuries-old pinewood outreaching the sea. It is a very popular tourist destination for its clear water and golden beaches.
Its local flora and fauna are also very well known for beauty and biodiversity. On the coast and in the canyons,for example, there are centuries-old Aleppo Pines together with particular oak trees, arbutus, sorb and juniper.
The “old town”, whose walls fall sheer on the amazing “canyon”, has a medieval architecture which is viewed through its narrow alleys, but the main historical buildings are characterized by a Baroque style.
The three most important buildings in Castellaneta are:
- The Cathedral (Chiesa di San Nicola), famous for its Baroque façade and the ceiling in carved wood;
- The Bishops’ Palace, dating back to the Eighteenth century, where it is possible to admire a painting by Santacroce;
- The Baronial Palace, which was once the seat of the political power
In the old town there is also the Catalano Palace decorated with oriental motifs and the Sarapo Palace in Baroque style.
In the town centre there are the monumental mountain in Piazza Umberto I and the statue of Rudolph Valentino.
There are also many churches, which shows the importance of Castellaneta as a religious centre. The San Domenico’s church is in the old town with a façade in both Renaissance and Baroque styles.
More churches worth a visit are San Michele’s Church, San Francesco’s Church and Santa Maria della Luce’s Church, also known as Maria Santissima Assunta or Santa Maria del Pesco. Santa Maria della Luce (13th century), is one of the few examples of Angevine-Gothic architecture in the area, along with the Cathedral’s bell tower. Built on uneven terrain, it is in the shape of a ship’s deck, and has interesting frescoes in the interior.
In the middle of the old town, in a former Convent of the Clares, there is a museum entirely dedicated to Rudolph Valentino, the real first Hollywood icon, who was born in Castellaneta and died in New York at the age of 31.
The rocky settlements in the canyon are very interesting, as they witness the presence of Greek monks who ran away from Leone III and found refuge in these caves.
In the countryside there are over one hundred historical farmhouses, some of which are fortified.
Lastly, for the nature lovers, these are the main canyons:
Gravina di Castellaneta, or Gravina Grande, which is near the old town and one of the most spectacular in Puglia
Gravina del Porto, near which there are a dolmen and a farmhouse
Gravina di Coriglione, near which there is the Santa Maria di Costantinopoli rocky settlement
Gravina di Santo Stefano and its rocky scenery
Gravine di Montecamplo near the Montecamplo hill.
Human settlements were present in the area since the Bronze Age (3rd–2nd millennium BC). According to a theory, a fortified city (Castania in Latin) was founded in 550 and grew in size when the population of neighboring cities fled there from Saracen attacks. Other historians maintain instead that it was a Greek colony which existed until the 8th century. When the Saracens destroyed it, the inhabitants joined in a Castellum Unitum (United Castle) on the hills, whence the current name. Whatever its origin, Castellaneta was conquered by the Normans in 1064, taken by Duke Robert of Taranto, who expelled its Byzantine inhabitants. At that time, probably, the episcopal see was created. In the 13th century Charles of Anjou turned it first into a fief, and later into a King’s city. In 1503, during the Italian Wars, the citizens pushed back a French occupation force under the Duke of Nemours, in the so-called “Sack of Castellaneta”. In 1519 the Spaniards sold it to Flemish feudatories, and thenceforth the city started to decline as secondary center. In the course of World War II, the withdrawing Germans bombed it, killing 27 people. For this feat the city received a bronze medal to civil valor.
RITUALS AND FOLKLORE
One of the main festivals in Castellaneta is the “sagra da far’nèdd’”, which takes place every year in August and offers a wide range of typical local dishes, such as “friselle”, “focaccia”, “orecchiette”, mozzarella cheese and dairy products, olive oil and the “far’nedd”, an ancient flour made of barley and chickpeas.
The Sant’Anna festival with its medieval parade takes place in July and in November.
The rituals of the Holy Week, with a procession reenacting Jesus Christ’s Passion, are particularly evocative and suggestive.
HOW TO REACH CASTELLANETA
Toll Road A14 Bologna-Taranto ( exit Castellaneta-Mottola) from and towards Northern Italy
S.S.7 Appia connecting the town with Matera, Taranto and Brindisi.
S.S.100 from and towards Bari
S.S.106 ( Taranto-Reggio Calabria) exit Castellaneta Marina
Railway: Bari-Taranto or Jonica, which connects the seaside with Taranto and Crotone.