Galatone is a very interesting town, a small jewel almost hidden in the Ionian hinterland of Salento. Despite the earthquake that in 1743 caused a number of destructions in the country, the medieval settlement of the village is still evident today, although the ancient walls retain only a few tracts along with the gracious sixteenth-century door dedicated to San Sebastiano, the only surviving of the three existing ones, on which stands the statue of the protector of the little town, executed in Lecce stone in 1859 by Pantaleo Larini.
The village name derives from the Greek term “gála” which means “milk”, originally linked to sheep’s milk, or the Greek name of the “Galatos” family. The first settlements in the area date back to the Neolithic period, as evidenced by the finds found in the “Villaggio Costante” on Serra Campilatini and in the Pinnella cave.
Among churches, palaces and eclectic villas
During the Middle Ages, Galatone underwent various domination, including those of Saracens, Ungars and Byzantines, then handing over to various feudal lords. The earthquake of 1743 also affected the Marchesale Palace, the seat of the lords of Galatone, so its splendor remains today only the portal and the elegant windows decorated with floral motifs and masks.
The surviving façade houses the blazons of the feudal families that have succeeded: Squarciafico, Pinelli, Pignatelli, Grillo. The adjacent square tower is instead older and was annexed to the palace for defense and repression purposes.
But the real work of art in the country is the Santuario del Santissimo Crocifisso della Pietà, to which several Salento works were performed, including Giuseppe Zimbalo and which was erected between 1683 and 1696 on the ruins of a pre-existing temple realized sixty years before And collapsed in 1683.
The testimony of late-baroque architecture has a truly monumental façade with many and elaborate rococo decoration and numerous niches with statues of saints.
The façade, in carparo and Lecce stone, is divided into three orders: the central area of the first order is occupied by the valuable carved wooden portal, while the other two orders follow the statues of the saintly evangelists, St. Peter the Apostle and of St. Paul, St. Sebastian, St. John the Baptist, the Guardian Angel and St. Michael the Archangel. Above the portal you can admire a Crucifix with four cherubim.
The interior of this Latin-crossed church is also very magnificent, with a beautiful wood-paneled ceiling made up of 60 golden and carved octagonal tiles. In the transept is raised an octagonal dome supported by four pillars and with four niches that house the statues of St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory.
Finally it is rich in frescoes, beginning with the dome embellished by the painting of the Ritrovamento della Croce da parte di Sant’Elena Imperatrice and also has a very scenic altar decorated with twisted columns and bas-reliefs representing cardinal viruses and guarding a fragment of the Santissimo Crocifisso della Pietà of the fourteenth century, an ancient icon considered miraculous.
Leaving the center of Galatone behind and continuing towards Gallipoli, attention can not be disrupted by the colors and shapes of large buildings that stand out in contrast to the blue of the sea and the sky. It is a unique architectural heritage that includes splendid eclectic villas, charming naturalistic theaters now magnificent and impressive, sometimes lazy and rich in stone embroidery like old laces.
Walking along this street, the gaze wanders away from high palm trees and triumphs of Lecce stone decorations shaped by the hands of Nicola Stapane’s stonecutter, called Billino, which embellish the Villas Malerba and Cataldo, today Nisi, to imagine the events that followed in time within these wonderful buildings.
And almost the heavy passages of the officers and Polish soldiers of the forces who came to liberate Italy from the fascist oppression, but in that terrible winter of ’43, one of the coldest of the century, were stationed at Villa Fusaro, burning up entire library and furniture to warm up.
Moving back to the village, other stories in Palazzo Arbia-De Paolo where is like a mute witness a wicker basket that served to the gentlemen to pay without having to go into the backyard to the peasants who collected the figs that in a time not too far away did the fortune of family. Others seem to whisper the fronds inside the closed and hidden garden of Palazzo Leuzzi, as well as “speak” with stuccoes and delicate colors its rich frescoed rooms.
Here, Salento is not only “lu sole, lu mare, lu ientu” (the sun, the sea, the wind).