Martina Franca, cultural heart of Valle d’Itria
Around the year one thousand, some refugees from Taranto to escape the constant Saracen devastation took possession of a mountain called San Martino, that gave name to the original settlement. Subsequently it was Filippo I D’Angiò in 1310 to denominate it “franca” having granted to the inhabitants some franchises to favor its development. Today Martina Franca represents the cultural heart of the Valle d’Itria distinguished for initiatives related to Art and classical music that find their maximum expression in the Festival of Valle d’Itria and in the Academy of Belcanto Rodolfo Celletti. The seventeenth-century Palazzo Ducale dominates the most important square, that at the beginning of the last century, was dedicated to commercial exchanges, above all wool and clothes. In those years it began a fervent activity linked to the garment industry which has evolved to the present day in the avant-garde productions of important brands.
Passed the arch of San Martino, visitors enter an enchanted world where time has stopped at those years when the square was packed with merchants who traded wool and fine fabrics. Continuing in the descent the buzz of passersby accompanies the walk that leads to the Cathedral of San Martino and the Piazza Maria Immacolata, surrounded by a precious portico, an ideal place to stop for a chat or a drink in one of the many bars around the square. This is the heart of Martina from which tiny streets wind through the Old Town to the Curdunnidd, the oldest part of town with houses dating back to the seventeenth century. There are many places to discover such as the Lazaretto which in the eighteenth century acted as “first aid” for those affected by plague and shelter for the orphans (it is still visible the swivel hatch where unwanted children were deposited), the medieval church of San Pietro dei Greci, and the baroque Church of S. Domenico. There are many noble palaces, with precious baroque facades overlooking the narrow streets where every corner revels a picturesque detail.