Most people today understand that oil is a strategic commodity that requires infrastructure, investment and global markets. What we recognise as the petroleum industry has existed for only two centuries, but olive oil was produced by our earliest civilisations. The requirements for olive oil production mirror those of modern petroleum and to visit Puglia is to realise that industrial production of oil has existed here for more than two millennia. Olive oil has powered the economy of this region since time immemorial.
This ancient industrial landscape provides the visitor with excellent walks; quiet roads, serene olive groves, wooded crags, vistas of the Adriatic Sea. Emperor Trajan’s 7th “cardo” was a strategic Roman road and is part of the via Francigena pilgrims’ way. As you walk along it the Roman road network, subterranean oil presses and storage wells are well documented by wayside information boards. On foot, time slows to a pace that matches the scenery, and it is easy to imagine how the bygone inhabitants lived.
Of course, the modern “trullo” is no longer the draughty, dry stone wall construction of medieval times, today’s visitor can expect something just as cute but much cosier. The old communities that thrived here branched out into viticulture and farming as oil wealth grew.
Magnificent basilicas and piazzas were built, white-walled cities were crammed with tiny lanes and grand facades.
A cuisine evolved that married the marvellous wines of the land to the fruits of the sea – and much more besides, vegetables, fruit and dolci.
Puglia though is more than its fascinating past and is now linked to Rome by high-speed train and the cities of Europe by air. Two 20th century networks, the Acquedotto Pugliese supplying much of the Province’s water and the Ferrovie Sud-Est operating the local trains, serve the region and both cater for Puglia’s tourism. The aqueduct makes an excellent day walk between two of the prettiest of Italian villages, Alberobello and Locorontondo. The railway shuttles visitors on slow trains from Lecce to the coast.
Otranto, at the far end of Italy’s heel and with its beach, promenade and castle, is a coastal gem. Here you can go for a hike, stroll along the seafront or explore its tiny back alleys. Tucked in amongst the gargantuan castle walls is Otranto cathedral, famous for its amazing floor mosaics.
Be sure to leave time for a gelato before the four o’clock train back to Lecce.
Great trip, thank you Macs Adventure.