Among the most spectacular routes and even less known of Puglia is one of the Murge of Taranto, reliefs snips by ravines, deep canyons that run perpendicular to the Ionian coast: a rock universe formed two million years ago.
Mottola, wild nature and Caves of God
A landscape that catches the eye and fills the soul, between the rock and the Mediterranean forest. Walking on the edge of the cliff, in the middle of bushes of mastic and juniper, you feel a world apart, yet little wrought by tourism and made of the country perched on the edge of deep ravines and a cultivated land with orange and olive trees.
As Mottola, called the Ionian Spy for its location on a scenic hill overlooking the deep blue of the Gulf of Taranto. It is here the most spectacular ravine and most majestic of Puglia, that of Petruscio, with vertical walls full of caves carved into the rock. The rock village grew on the sides of the ravine, within the different levels of the caves communicating with each other over that in the centuries have been used as housing, shelter for animals, religious cult centers and even cemeteries.
Winding paths lead to the bottom of the ravine but the most interesting vantage point is from which you can admire right from the center of horror: only known to a few people allowed us to produce amazing pictures that give an idea of how deep and widespread is this split engraved in the rock.
Mottola also has an old town with a circular plan that takes root on the hill among winding streets and steep steps, which should certainly be more valued, and many churches. Located on the top there is the Mother Church dating back to the thirteenth century and later rebuilt.
But the most interesting churches are certainly those rock and the most beautiful one of San Nicola, called the Sistine Chapel of rock civilizations where you remain open-mouthed in front of the cycle of 24 frescoes dating between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries with the center, on wall of the apse, the Christ Pantocrator.
Also majestic Christ Pantocrator inside the basement church of San Gregorio, which is part of a sprawling complex that also includes the two rock-hewn churches of Our Lady of Seven Lamps and the church of Our Lady of the Angels. This church is very interesting for its interior of great value divided into aisles by four large pillars and carefully carved ceiling beams fake and domes. Remarkably, the depiction of Christ Pantocrator in the apse of a cave church is quite unusual in our region where the apses prevails the representation of the Deesis, and in Tarantino area the only two examples are present in Mottola, in San Gregorio – in fact – and in cave church of Christ to the Caves.
Another unique cave church is Sant’Angelo, which is the only case in Puglia rock church with two underground floors, typical architectural solution of Cappadocia and the Byzantine world. Too bad that the frescoes are very seriously affected by the infiltration of water, favored by tilling the ground above.
Around Mottola extends a veritable open-air museum of old farms, trulli, cisterns, rock settlements and “God’s caves” dug in tuff valleys and surrounded by the intense fragrance of rosemary, thyme and oregano. And that’s where it develops the culture of living in the cave, with architectural gems from the iconographic exceptional artistic workmanship equipment as finely frescoed crypts, real art galleries housed in vaults of rock. This is not isolated phenomena, although here reach a very high level of fine workmanship, but are part of a natural habitat, anthropic and typical Mediterranean culture, extended from Turkey to Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Armenia, Southern Italy, Tunisia, Jordan, Israel, France and Spain, and it characterized by the use of the cave carved out as a temple, church, home, factory, village, necropolis.
But as we said all this in Mottola is set in such a wild and beautiful scenery to have served as set in one of the stories of the film Il racconto dei racconti by Matteo Garrone stories, the director of Gomorra. This is “The Flea”, starring a king and his daughter, of marriageable age will be given in marriage to an ogre. After eight months in which the location manager in the film Gennaro Aquino toured the length and breadth of Italy, were chosen to Casalrotto caves as ogre home.
In a small ravine, between plants of rosemary and capers and olive trees, it stands the Madonna del Carmine church or Madonna Abbàsc, partly excavated in the rock, those who arrive on a sunny clear day, looks like a small clove of Greece in the land of Puglia. To mislead the shape of the upper part of the sanctuary and the dazzling white of the walls. Legend has it that 22 April 1506 the Virgin of Carmel appeared in a dream to the cleric Francesco Pietro di Filippo, who was resting in the cave where he lived, and charged him to build a chapel dedicated to her. Since then, during Saturdays of Lent, at the chapel it held a crowded pilgrimage Votive from Mottola and many nearby towns. Inside, the altar fresco Odegitria represents the Virgin with two angels that hold the crown.
We leave reluctantly this haven of peace and devotion. With a promise: we will return to Mottola to visit the much more that the city offers to those who are ready to seize its beauty often hidden.