Over the past centuries the isolation of towns in the "Regno
di Napoli" (Naples' Kingdom) was striking for travellers
coming from northern Europe.
The poor condition of communications, the presence of criminals
plundering wayfarers and the backward commerce made contacts
between different parts of the Kingdom, even if distant few miles,
In such a scenario Martina not only wasn't different, but,
indeed, the character of the land, inaccessible and at that time
largely covered with woods, together with the distance from the
old "safe" ways made matters even worse.
Of the four main roads connecting Martina to other parts of the
reign, the road for Taranto to the south, the one for Massafra to
the west, for Francavilla to the east and for Bari to the north,
only the last one ensured at least a scarcely acceptable safety.
When a traveller for some reason ventured to this part of the
reign, reaching Martina, he was amazed at finding out that,
sheltered by a hostile wildlife, there was a place very different
from the one he expected.
He was struck first by the beauty of the "martinese"
Its gentle look, with all those odd tiny whitewashed houses
dotting an undulating landscape, the lanes that seemed to be
drawn by the paint-brush of an artist, together with the bright
colours of various cultivations clashed with the rough
characteristic of the places crossed to get there.
The Valle d'Itria (Itria's Valley) was particularly picturesque
and, with its concave expanse, radiused distant hills, on which
white villages lied.
It was all strewn with "trulli" (little houses with a
cone-shaped roof), it was spotted with green touches of the brush
of scattered trees, so that it seemed to be the picture of a fair-tale
The traveller didn't expect either to find a so populated town in
such a hidden area.
In the late eighteenth century Martina had nearly 15000
inhabitants, a very large number for that time, considering that
Bari had 20000 ones, Taranto 18000 ones and Brindisi even only
The town, that from the top of the hill watched the whole valley,
was all contained in the old walls.
The buildings, risen at random one after the other, filling up
still existing spaces, had generated twisted shapes.
The narrow alleys, by day swarming with people, were delimited by
thick white-washed outside walls that gave the town-dwellers a
sensation of protection and warm.
Among the confused mass of popular construction only S.Martino
church and the imposing Ducal Palace caught the eye for their
The palace had risen where, before, the old castle of the Orsini
That castle, pulled down in 1668, left of itself only the memory
amongst the people and just one representation in a painting of
The town was not prepared to welcome foreigners.There was only an inn, in addition not very cosy.
The only way to secure an agreeable stay was to present
themselves with a letter of introduction, that assured the
hospitality of one of many wealthy families living in Martina.
The warm reception of these people was just one of the things
that surprised more men coming from distant places: "usually
foreigners arriving at these villages preconceive to find
inhospitable and uncivilised inhabitants, so their surprise is
greater when they find a true and friendly hospitality",
Salis De Marschilins confirmed, while someone else described
Martina like this: "its inhabitants present themselves to
foreigners adorned with suave manners and a kind hospitality".
Also the advice given by marquis Giuseppe Ceva Grimaldi, after a
short stay in our town, is worth mentioning: "whoever travel
the province of Otranto might drop in at Martina in the
summertime :he will find a fresh and pleasant stay, frequent
dances, delicious sherbets, very pure companies, loveable and
polite women who sing good music and dance the 'pizzica' ".
The so renowned sherbets of Martina, about which Ceva Grimaldi
wrote, were made from snow, that was picked up in winter and kept
into "nevaie" (store of snow), adding lemon juice or
mint, rosolio or else "vino cotto" (cooked wine). They
were often offered to guests and what a delight was for
foreigners, in a sunny summer day, to taste a good sherbets
sheltered from the sun, chatting kindly with their hosts.
Amongst illustrious travellers who appreciate our hospitality is
worth mentioning English general Church.
In 1871 he was round here with his troop, his mission was to
catch brigands hidden in the area.
He was just passing through and so he didn't intend to stop for a
Martinese gentleman don Martino Recupero, who for that occasion
prepared a sumptuous banquet, offered hospitality to him and his
Broad halls were lit up by many candles, tables were loaded by
all sort of delicacies and all illustrious town-dwellers were
It seemed the English man liked the party much and, although he
didn't take part in the dance prepared in his honour, he enjoyed
looking at women dancing and he quickly moved around the hall to
talk with ladies.
In fact he had a liking for Martinese woman, like he would have
His stay was so pleasant that the general remained in Martina for
a longer time than the one he had planned before and, only after
three days, with great regret, he left the town; but his
Martinese experience remained amongst his best memories.
Therefore he also, like most of those who came to Martina, didn't
resist the spell of the town.
Unluckily we will never meet such genuine people, appreciate
the beauty of those landscapes, breathe that "esquisita"(exquisite)
air, because we have lost all these things by now.
The only thing we can do is to look at what that time bequeath us
and to be traveller in the ancient Martina, but only with our