Around Carovigno extends a veritable archaeological park of living trees, older than the buildings and monuments that arise in the village. They are centuries-old olive trees, with magnificent trunks and imposing foliage, unfortunately today increasingly threatened by the advance of Xylella Fastidiosa, a bacterium that from the lower Salento is ascending towards the Apulian peninsula causing the desiccation of plants even centennial.
The olive trees, the sea, the Torre Guaceto Reserve and the “Nzegna
From this green expanse to the blue and transparent sea of the coast you arrive in an instant. And already from a distance you can see the profiles of the coastal towers built to defend the territory from the Saracen threat.
The Tower of Santa Sabina has a star-shaped plan and an octagonal shape and is currently privately owned, but the surrounding area is very interesting: referring to the Bronze Age are the numerous pole holes that are encountered while walking on the rocks towards Mezzaluna beach, while under the water’s surface wrecks of a certain importance give indications on the strategic position of the landing and on the commercial history of the city directly connected with the Greek coasts.
The other, Torre Guaceto, has a square shape and is the only work of man present in the Marine Protected Area and State Natural Reserve, a precious stretch of uncontaminated coast that extends between the territories of Carovigno and Brindisi.
The name of this area derives from the Arabic word al Gawsit which means place of fresh water and finds dating back to the Bronze Age make us understand that it was already inhabited in prehistoric times. Moreover, in a region where there are no large superficial streams and therefore defined by the Latin poet Orazio Siticulosa Apulia, water has always been considered a very precious element, especially in those areas defined as “wetlands”, those natural environments characterized by the co-presence of land and water, which represent one of the most important types of habitats for biodiversity conservation.
Among the treasures of the naturalistic oasis of Torre Guaceto, a place of honor deserves the hundreds of birds attracted by the great availability of food present. The most representative are the kestrels or marsh hawks, but there are also starlings and swallows in quantity, which use this particular habitat only at night to rest. A frequent visitor of these swamps is also the rare bittern, while other marsh birds such as coot and little grebe build nests anchored to the plants.
During our walk accompanied by Giovanni Lamacchia Naturalistic guide of the Thalassia Cooperative, we had the opportunity to spot a busy Cavaliere d’Italia, who with his long and sharp beak was looking for food among sand and soil moistened at the edge of the canal, an elegant gray heron and several ducks, excellent swimmers with webbed paws and water repellent plumage: widgeons, mallards and garganeys. While in flight over the water the egrets were distinguished with their unmistakable white livery and the beak and the black legs.
Walking slowly along the watercourses, just beyond the dunes between which the sea peeps, you hear continuous rustlings between the reeds. Approaching, jumps and thumps signal the presence of toads and frogs. All the way you breathe the wind that carries the smell of the nearby sea, but you can also feel the intense aromas of the Mediterranean maquis: juniper, lentisk, myrtle, cistus, broom.
In the distance stands the white coastal tower that gives its name to the reserve and that is part of that sighting system wanted in the first half of the 1500s by the viceroy don Pedro of Toledo, during the reign of Charles V, to monitor the coasts most exposed to incursions enemy.
The blue of the sea merges with that of the sky as we approach the sea turtle recovery center Luigi Cantoro, born three years ago to treat these creatures wounded by boat propellers like the great tortoise Caretta caretta unfortunately become blind due to an infection, or entangled in fishermen’s nets or in distress due to too rigid temperatures such as the two small specimens most guests in separate tanks.
Returning towards Carovigno, in the surrounding countryside stands the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Belvedere, which includes the upper church towering over a green hill of olive trees and a system of natural caves on two different levels.
A steep staircase of 31 steps leads to about twenty meters deep in the lower cave where there is a baroque altar above which a Virgin with the Bambinello and the bird is frescoed, probably the same that according to legend was found by a a shepherd who asked for help to free a heifer that had fallen into a bush and appeared in a dream to a paralyzed lord of Conversano who was immediately healed once he was in his presence. Out of gratitude the man bought the cow and gave it to the Carovignesi who were recalled by the same shepherd who waved and threw his stick in the air with a multicolored cloth tied to it.
Since then and continuously the throwing of the colored cloth to the sky is an act of prayer, which is celebrated with the ‘Nzegna, word that means flag and derives from the French enseigne.
The statue of the Madonna, carried in procession by hundreds of figurants, “assists” to the evolutions of the two battitori, belonging to the Carlucci family, who for generations have been reproducing them on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays after Easter.
It remains to add that it was really exciting for us to hear the name of Conversano during the story that precedes the show, in which we felt a bit like protagonists of ourselves as fellow citizens of that gentleman to whom we owe the beginning of heartfelt tradition.
Carovigno is called the “city of the ‘Nzegna” to underline besides the great devotion to the Madonna, given that it is one of the few Marian insignia prevented from the Middle Ages with a significant value of ecumenical peace document between Greeks and Latins, also the skill of the its flag wavers recognized among the best in Italy.
The movement puts hunger. You can’t go wrong by following the scent of bread still cooked in the oven fed with olive wood: you can find it at the Lu Scattusu bakery, inside the Gironde Tower, which for three generations has been preparing taralli every day, in addition to bread with yeast, frise and focaccia.
After it’s time for rest and head back to the countryside to enjoy the tranquility in the large rooms immersed in the greenery of the Masseria Caselli.