Visit Manduria between history, wonderful beaches, top food and Primitivo wine!
If you still don’t know the “heart of Salento”, now it’s time to plan a trip to the “Land of Primitivo red wine”. Manduria is an Apulian town that absolutely deserves to be visited at least once in a lifetime!
In this article, you will discover everything you could see, do and taste in this fascinating town, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards overlooking the sea. Manduria, in fact, is famous for its 18 kilometres of coastline where beaches of unique beauty are interspersed with ancient watchtowers.
But it is also a place of historical interest, as it was one of the main centres of the Messapic civilisation, traces of which can still be admired today in the Archaeological Park. We are sure you will love wandering around the narrow streets of its historic centre and visiting its monuments and suggestive views, as well as enjoying its specialities in the many restaurants and wine cellars in the area.
A summer destination par excellence, Manduria actually offers excellent opportunities for leisure and relaxation throughout the year. Just an hour’s drive from Taranto, Lecce and Brindisi, Manduria is the ideal place to visit either for a day trip or as a base to see its interesting surroundings. In short, one thing is certain: you will be spoilt for choice, if you decide to visit Manduria!
The origins of its name
Located in the highest part of Salento, in the province of Taranto, Manduria is also known as the “City of the Messapi”, an ancient tribe of classical antiquity and renowned horse breeders, hence one hypothesis on the origin of its name: “mandus”, horse in the Indo-European language.
Others believe instead that the name comes from the fact that the town is located near Oria, so Manduria would mean “in front of Oria”. A thesis that is also historically confirmed, as Manduria was the Messapian outpost that separated Oria, the political capital of the Messapian Dodecapolis, from the bitter enemies of Taranto. A final hypothesis would instead link it to the almond tree, a tree to which the people of Manduria are very attached and which also appears in the town’s coat of arms.
A history of land and sea
In a strategic position between the Ionian Sea and the Taranto Murgia, Manduria was founded by the Messapi people, only to fall under the dominion of Rome around 266 B.C. It was crossed by the Via Sallentina (also called Via Traiana Sallentina), an ancient Roman road, at least 4 metres wide and paved, that started from Taranto, from the Via Appia, crossed Manduria and headed into the heart of the Salento, passing through all the main centres such as Avetrana, Nardò, Alezio, Ugento and Otranto. It was destroyed by the Saracens and then refounded in the 11th century under the name of Casalnuovo, before regaining its original name in 1789 by choice of Ferdinand I of Bourbon, King of the Two Sicilies. It was instead the King of Italy, Umberto I, who gave it the name of City in 1895.
Our itinerary for you: here is what to see in Manduria!
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flickr, Giovanni ‘jjjohn’ Orlando
A visit to the all-to-see Manduria, perfect for grasping the true essence of this splendid town, starts from its historic centre. This is a maze of characteristic streets and alleys that make this village a place full of beautiful and evocative views, perfect for photography enthusiasts, to be visited entirely on foot starting from Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi.
1. PALAZZO IMPERIALI-FILOTICO
Considered one of the most important feudal palaces in the entire Salento region, this building was built in the early 18th century by Michele III Imperiali and later passed to the Filotico family, who still live there today. It is called “the castle” by all the people of Manduria, because it was built where once stood an ancient Norman castle.
2. MOTHER CHURCH OF MANDURIA
This church is a splendid and imposing example of Apulian religious architecture, with a fusion of Romanesque and Gothic elements. It was built over an old medieval church, of which still remain two stylophoric lions on either side of the portal, which together with the rose window and baptismal font are the work of Maestro Raimondo da Francavilla. The bell tower outside is Gothic in style. You will be struck by the majesty of its interior: five naves, a central colonnade with decorated capitals, pulpit and ceiling both in wood, and several side chapels, the most important of which is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, St Gregory the Great.
3. JEWISH QUARTER
As soon as you cross the threshold of the Jewish quarter, you will immediately realise how much Manduria is a place of history and culture, a true open-air museum, which is home to a small Jewish community in its historic centre. As ancient and evocative as the Ghetto of Rome, the district has its entrance in front of the Mother Church, and, bordered by three arches, extends around vico Stretto, vico Lacaita and vico degli Ebrei. Here you can admire tangible signs of the Jewish community such as the Synagogue, the protruding chimneys and the Rabbi’s Loggia.
4. PLACES OF WORSHIP IN MANDURIA
Santa Lucia, built in 1894 on the remains of another 16th-century church dedicated to the Nativity of Mary; San Benedetto, built in the 16th century it houses the body of Saint Florentius Marty and has a façade divided into two parts: the lower one, with a portal with a curvilinear pediment, and the upper one, with a large window and two niches, one containing Saint Benedict and the other Saint John; San Pietro in Bevagna, dedicated to Saint Peter, who is said to have passed here around 44 AD, is built by the sea next to a watchtower and in the second half of July is decorated with coloured lights marking the way to its entrance.
5. MUSEUM OF CIVILISATION AND PRIMITIVE WINE
This museum, located inside the 19th-century “Cantina Produttori Vini di Manduria”, offers a splendid itinerary that will take you on a discovery of the area’s ancient wine-making traditions. Born from an idea of the local Primitivo wine cooperative to make the vineyards of these lands known and valued, it has ended up to become a true multi-sensorial journey that will completely win you over. We suggest you to book your entrance.
6. ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
The archaeological museum “Manduria, Land of the Messapi” is located in the former Augustinian monastery. It exhibits exceptional archaeological artefacts from the burial chambers of both the necropolis, in which no less than 2,500 tombs have been brought to light, and the urban settlements.
7. CIVIC MUSEUM
Inaugurated in 2018, it preserves the memory of the presence of the Americans at the town’s military airport and tells both the horrors of the war and the beautiful stories of welcome and exchange, born of the coexistence between the soldiers and the locals. In the museum’s display cases, you can admire numerous relics from World War II, as well as learn about the story of Cosimo Moccia, who was awarded the medal for military valour. The museum has also recently been enriched with a photographic collection, documenting the reception of Trentino refugees in Manduria during World War I.
8. CALVARY OF MANDURIA
Located near the public gardens, the Calvary of Manduria conceals a history of mystery regarding its construction. The most accredited one places it in the early 19th century by some Liquorini priests – an order founded by Saint Alphonsus de’ Liguori – with the intention of exhorting the population to pray. Inside, there are five crosses, symbolic places of prayer in front of a Calvary.
Subsequently, the archpriest of the time, Marco Gatti, decided to commission Giuseppe Renato Greco to embellish the monument with the main scenes of the Passion of Christ, made from countless shells and shards from different eras, evidence, among other things, of the renowned production of ceramics from Manduria and Laterza, areas beaten by Greco house to house, to collect everything he would then need to embellish the work.
9. ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK OF THE MESSAPIAN WALLS
If you have an interest in the past and in archaeology, this is a stop you absolutely cannot miss! There are many remains that you can still admire dating back to the time of the Messapi, the founders of the city, such as the imposing walls built for its defence, the Necropolis area, the Fonte Pliniano and the small church of S. Pietro Mandurino. All located in Piazza Scegnu.
What to do in the evening & what to taste in Manduria
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flickr, Maurizio Lambri
There are many places for young and old alike, all in the historic centre, perfect for an aperitif to accompany local wines or to taste traditional Manduria dishes or typical local specialities, which can also be purchased in the many shops or directly in the olive oil mills and wine cellars just outside the city walls.
Don’t miss the bread de sand’andonie, round and flattened, made with durum wheat semolina and water. Excellent on bruschetta with extra virgin olive oil from the Terre Tarentine PDO and cherry tomatoes from Manduria, alternating with the typical crispy Friselle, soaked in water and then “sponzate”, i.e., seasoned always with EVOO and cherry tomatoes.
Absolutely not to be missed are the baked or fried panzerotti and the legendary puccia, a kind of sandwich made with pizza dough. For the health-conscious and fruit lovers, there are the tasty sweet Navelino oranges, typical of the entire Gulf of Taranto, and the Carosello di Manduria, a melon that is eaten unripe as an alternative to cucumber. Thanks to the ease of cross-breeding with various local melon populations and the patient selection carried out by Apulian farmers, over time they have obtained Carosello melons very different in shape, size, presence of surface hairs and colour, with a decidedly unique flavour.
A separate discourse must be made for the flagship of local production, Primitivo wine.
A red wine with a very intense colour tending towards violet, it has a strong, fruity aroma and a harmonious flavour that is pleasant to the palate. Tradition has it that it was the ancient Greeks who brought these vines to Apulia some two thousand years ago, but according to other opinions it was the Illyrians who migrated to these lands.
Today it is certainly one of the most appreciated wines both in Italy and worldwide. Its regulations provide for as many as 24 months of ageing, at least 9 of which in wood. Numerous wineries organise visits and tastings on site.
What to visit near Manduria
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Once you have visited Manduria, you will find attractions for all tastes and interests by planning a tour of its beautiful surroundings. Beginning with its famous beaches of fine white sand, such as San Pietro in Bevagna, the Vecchia Salina where you can admire flamingos, Salina dei Monaci connected to the sea by a channel carved into the rock, Borraco, Porto Cesareo, Pulsano, Marina di Pulsano up to the renowned Punta Prosciutto. Some anti-Saracen watchtowers still stand on most of the beaches, such as the Borraco Tower, the Salina dei Monaci Tower, the San Pietro in Bevagna Tower and the Colimena Tower.
For nature lovers, the Cuturi Wood is a must-see: with its 35 hectares at 80 metres above sea level it rightfully belongs to the “Regional Nature Reserves of the Tarantino Oriental Coast”, as does the Chidro River Nature Reserve, with its icy waters flowing into the warm sea, generating a pleasant contrast.
Also worth a tour are Avetrana, with its castle, the Chiesa Matrice and the Clock Tower, and Grottaglie, with its typical workshops of master potters.
But also Sava, Porto Cesareo – a splendid seaside resort in the Province of Lecce -, Oria with its important historic centre, Maruggio, Francavilla Fontana, Erchie.
Events not to be missed
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flickr, Michelangelo Delu’
This is an event with very ancient origins, as it is said to have been first desired by the Queen of Naples Giovanna II of Anjou between the 14th and 15th centuries, and is certainly mentioned in a Royal Decree of 1742. The decidedly original name is due to the weather conditions of the period when the fair takes place, usually the second week of March.
FEAST OF THE PATRON SAINT
The patron saint’s festival is held every year in Manduria from 2 to 4 September to celebrate and remember St Gregory the Great, the city’s patron saint.
How to get to Manduria
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- By car: from Taranto take the SS7 and in less than an hour you will be in Manduria
- By train: direct connections from Taranto
- By plane: the nearest airport is Brindisi, 56 kilometres away
At this point, now that you know what to see in Manduria, all that remains is to wish you a happy trip to Puglia! 😉