Apulia

Good food, feasts and ancient cultural traditions

Discover Puglia through our courses!

Taking a course in our Italian language school means discovering an outstanding region. Here we publish the experience of one of our students:

Why not combine a course learning Italian with sunshine, history, culture (and a bit of beach) in the beautiful Salento region of Italy?

I have just returned from a two week stay in Otranto, a small, charming, friendly seaside town deep in Puglia, southern Italy – the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot. Historically the far south has always been considered the poor relation compared to the more affluent north. However, this area enjoys a rich cultural heritage and a very interesting history (yes, Horace Walpole, son of British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole did write ‘The Castle of Otranto’, the first supernatural English novel and one of the most influential works of Gothic fiction) and the town’s people were kindness itself -especially when in my very basic Italian I was forced to enlist their help and support for the first four days of my visit when I discovered that my suitcase had not managed to get on the same flight as its owner.
I had signed up for a two week course at the Scuola Porta d’Oriente in Otranto, a small but charming language school. After facing a rather daunting looking test paper on the first morning so that we could be assigned to a class of the appropriate level, we were taken on a guided introductory tour of the town, thus beginning our immersion into the language. During the following two weeks there followed a series of daily lessons, in which our teacher led us through a diverse and always wholly compelling sequence of activities in the classroom (and kitchen where one day we made pasta). The school prides itself on being small and therefore able to tailor the lessons to the interests and abilities of the learners and our teacher was indeed at the outset keen to know from all of us just what our expectations were as well as our interests: we were seven in the class and therefore had ample opportunity for speaking practice. She is a skilled practitioner and patiently and clearly communicated her passion for and knowledge of the history, culture and of course the language of her birthplace. She seems to have a never-ending stock of interesting articles to read, video clips to watch and games to play and the lessons flew by as one activity morphed seamlessly into the next, all the while gently encouraging her students with empathy and good humour.
Otranto may be small and a little off the beaten track (and is, I suspect, very different in August when you may have to fight for a space on the beach) but a course at the school will be an enriching experience in every sense of the phrase.

Dianne Place (London)

Here you have a list of some aspects that made Puglia famous all over the world. Many of these aspects will be treated in depth during our Italian language and culture courses.

Discover Apulian gastronomy through our courses!

Celebrate Puglia at the table! From Gargano to Salento, this slow-pace journey across traditional recipes is a narration of the extraordinary regional diversity: slow food presidiums, local limited productions and quality certifications are to be found aplenty: the Altamura DOP bread is world renowned, as is Apulian extra-virgin olive oil and the unmistakable Burrata from Andria. Among typical Apulian dishes, it is just impossible to resist to Rice, Potatoes and Mussels, or  the yummy home made Orecchiette,  both with ragout meat sauce or in its most intense fashion, dressed with turnip greens.

Apulia offers you products of a unique cuisine: sweets, with strong Oriental flavours, such as fruttoni, mostaccioli or copeta (almond and honey nougat); meat dishes such as roasted lamb entrails, turcinelli delicacies of horsemeat with sauce, moniceddhi, that is snails collected during the underground hibernation period, thus still covered in a whitish secretion (mpannate). These and many more dishes are served in the “putèe”, the typical Apulia restaurants where the traditions of popular cuisine are preserved.

By our Italian language school in Puglia you have the possibility to do a lot of activities connected with Food and Wine: a cooking course, olive-oil and wine tours and wine courses.

grape harvest in Puglia
Focaccia from Bari

The San Giuseppe tables form part of another culinary tradition that is still alive in villages such as Surano and Giurdignano. This devotional practice which has been handed down within families entails days of preparation for a special menu. The dishes are surprising: home-made spaghetti, cakes with honey and accompanied with fried fish, a complex, dried salted cod sauce, round bread rolls with mysterious insignia, pod-shaped honey cakes that allude to ancient Egyptian divinities.
All of these dishes have borrowed directly from cultures of the Mediterranean Basin and beyond, attesting to Apulia‘s role as the meeting point of the most ancient of civilizations.

Visit the photogallery about Apulia.

Music and Dance in Salentine Tradition

Notte della Taranta concertHere you will live unforgettable music experiences: live summer concerts about the traditional music of Salento, the lesson about Apulian Tarantism and Pizzica etc.

Pizzica is a it is a therapeutic dance. The use of music and dance for both ceremonial and therapeutic purposes is one of the distinctive features of this ancient culture, and probably dates back to before the arrival of Greek influence. These arts are imbued with rich iconographies that hark back to distant archetypal myths common among many other Mediterranean civilizations.
Dionysism is the underlying force in Tarantism, which is probably the most mysterious and intriguing phenomenon of Apulia folk culture. This ancient musical exorcism practice dating back to the Middle Ages has not yet completely died out. Men and women who believe they have been bitten by the tarantula go on a pilgrimage to Galatina on the San Paolo’s feast days (June 28 and 29). The tarantula’s bite induces a mortal languor and the pilgrimage liberates the victim from these effects, as does the use of colours, music and dance. So the role of the small orchestra (the main instruments are the traditional guitar, violin, mandolin and tambourine) is all important. The band goes to the victim’s house and incites the bitten person to dance. The dance can last several days. Recourse to St. Paul is explained by Christianity’s effort to provide a substitute for the ancient pagan cult of serpents. The tarantula might also represent a totemic animal whose origins are lost in the mists of time, prior to the cult of Menadaism, Corybantism, or the Dionysiac festivals which Tarantanism evokes with its hedonist and frenzied traits. The superb rhythmic music leads the victims towards their liberation, with sounds that range from the gloomy to the poignant, culminating in an extraordinary crescendo.
This music is now played by various revival groups and offers an interesting example of the survival of Salento folk music.

Traditions, festivals and events in Puglia (Salento)

If you decide to learn Italian in Puglia in every period of the year students have always an opportunity to get in touch with the culture of the place. Here a list of some of the Salentine traditions and feasts:

December

The live nativities

The live nativity are typical representations of the nativity interpreted by improvised set of place, they are in many inland villages. You can visit for free and many of them, at the end of the visit, offer a little taste of local food in exchange for an offer.

January

La Focara (Novoli)

In January, Novoli celebrates the days of fire with the huge awe-inspiring bonfire of the Fòcara, the highlight of the festival dedicated to St. Anthony the Abbot.
In Salento, they call them the days of fire: the celebrations in honor of St. Anthony the Abbot, which every year paint the town of Novoli red, culminate with the ignition of the Fòcara on January 16th, the huge bonfire 20 m wide and over 25m high, the biggest in the Mediterranean basin.

February

Il Carnevale di Putignano

The longest and some say oldest Carnival in the world! Four parades with allegorical floats and masked merrymakers and lots more besides!

March

I Falò di San Giuseppe

In Italy, Father’s Day is on 19th March to coincide with the Festa di San Giuseppe. In an act of purification and hope for a bountiful year bonfires are lit in towns all around Puglia. Pagan and Christian superstitions merge and local communities bond.

March/April

Holy week in Gallipoli

The rites of Holy Week in Gallipoli are centred on the narrow streets of the old town. In these solemn days, the city is infused with a strong mystical atmosphere and almost surreal silence (especially on Holy Thursday). The rites of the processions begin with “Passion Friday” and end on “Holy Saturday” with a moving procession that starts from the Church of Purity.

June

San Pietro e Paolo

Every year this festival invites people to visit the beautiful seaside town of Otranto, to taste its delicious local food and get to know the colourful Salento folklore.

Danza delle Tarantole

Processions and dances in honour of archaic divinities.

July

La Festa di Santa Domenica

The little town of Scorrano near Otranto literally lights up on in celebration of its Patron Saint, Santa Domenica. The local artisans, many of whom make festival illuminations for towns all over Italy, come into their own creating large wooden structures and arches up to 36m high, dotted with a kaleidoscope of colourful lights. Not to be outdone, local fireworks companies put on an amazing show on the last night.

Mercatino del Gusto

The centre of Maglie in Salento becomes an open-air food market with stalls offering local produce, pasta-making lessons and lots more besides. Very good fun with children.

August

Locomotive Jazz Festival

Plenty of gigs in a variety of venues around Salento with a good range of Italian and international performers.

La Festa dei Martiri Idruntini

Commemorating the 800 martyrs who died at the hands of the Turks in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam. After a couple of days of solemnity and processions, the mood picks up on the final day with a little partying and a stunning firework display.

The night of San Rocco and the “dance of the swords”.

The night of San Rocco in Torre Paduli (a hamlet of Ruffano) is one of the most evocative festivals of the whole Salento: The festivity takes place between the 15th and the 16th of August and offers the opportunity to get to know the pizzica ballad, set to the rhythm of the tambourine and the exciting “dance of the swords”, a Mafia dance, a sort of Salentine Capoeira.

La Notte della Taranta

The month-long festival takes place in 15 towns around the Salento, which is the central and southern part of Puglia. The grand finale is held in Melpignano, which draws more than 100,000 visitors to dance in the piazza, enjoy the music and traditional foods of the Lecce province. Visit the website La Notte della Taranta for the calendar and details.

September

Festa te lu Mieru – Wine Festival

The moving scenery of the old neighbourhood is the perfect setting for this popular wine festival: three days full of shows, live music and folk dances, but mainly – and most importantly – packed with wine (lu mieru) and food delicacies!

Old crypts and churches

As to the hermit-byzantine crypts, they are linked to the iconoclastic fight sparked off by Leone III, the emperor of Byzantium, in the 8th century, when a multitude of hermits came to Apulia. Leading an ascetic life, the hermits first occupied the caves along the coast and then the ones spread in the hinterland, converting them into small churches and lodgings for the night. In those places a miracle happened: the apses and walls were covered with marvellous frescoes showing saints from eastern countries and scenes from the gospel. Many of them preserve their whole beauty still today. In addition to the crypts, the churches, jewels of art and faith increased Salento’s broad heritage. Some of them date back to the lower middle ages under the Byzantines first (S. Peter’s in Otranto) and the Normans.
The baroque deserves more attention since it represents the most dramatic point of contact between faith and art; it reaches its highest level in the architectural eccentricity of its renowned world capital: Lecce. Santa Croce Basilica alone is worthy of a trip to Apulia and Salento from the farthest places in the world. Lecce is the triumph of baroque and of Lecce stone, starting from the magnificent facades of its churches, monasteries, public buildings and private houses till the humblest of its balconies and portals.

Dolmen and Menhirs

The megaliths are spread all over the province and can probably be dated back to the Bronze Age, they are therefore chronologically later than the analogous and impressive megalith phenomenon which developed along the Atlantic coasts of Europe. Menhir, dolmen and specchie (mounds) represent one of the most spectacular and also most mysterious moments of old Salentine history.
Menhirs are stones, roughly squared and placed vertically in the ground, of various dimensions and rectangular section, they are located mostly in isolated places and positioned with the wide prism tace towards the sun. This last detail suggests that various ritual elements were interwoven, for example the phallic cult and worshipping the sun with a more practical and necessary function, linked to the changing of the seasons, e.g. used as an astronomical observatory or as a meeting place at certain times of year to take important decisions. There were those who believed in the mythical idea that they served as severe guardians of precious coins and fabulous treasure.
Dolmens, on the other hand, are constructions made up of horizontal covering slabs with a series of stone blocks supporting them forming a large burial room, giving credence to the hypothesis that they were funeral monuments or in any case destined in some way to celebrate the journey to the hereafter. A common element of all the Salentine dolmens is their entrance, which faces east.

The Messapians, an old civilization

As the first civilized and organized inhabitants of the area now occupied by the provinces of Lecce, Brindisi and Taranto, the Messapians created a civilization that was very advanced for its time, evidence of which, sometimes very impressive evidence, has come to light in recent years, during the numerous excavations that have taken and are taking place all over the area.
Archaeological and epigraphical heritage of great interest can be admired at Lecce’s Provincial Museum (the oldest in the region), Gallipoli’s Civic Museum, Alezio’s Archaeological Park, Ugento’s Civic Museum, and for an overall picture in Tarantos National Museum, tull of statues, Messapian vases, fibulas, craters, painted and glazed pottery, lamps, imported and local terracotta.

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