Valle d’Itria is that portion of the southern Murge plateau that extends into the municipal territories of Alberobello, Ceglie Messapica, Cisternino, Locorotondo, Martina Franca and Ostuni marked by the presence of the symbol that best represents this area: the Trullo.
The territory is of sedimentary origin. Over 100 million years ago, Valle d’Itria was a seabed that subsequently emerged along with the whole Murge promontory, a portion of the more extensive Apula Platform, which during its formation has not always been at the level of the sea bottom. In fact during the variations of the sea level there were periods of partial emergence in which swamps and marshes were formed; those were natural habitats for dinosaurs and large prehistoric animals of which numerous footprints have been found at Cava Pontrelli di Altamura, , and San Leonardo near Molfetta. A great concentration of fossil remains in Valle d’Itria are found in the abandoned quarry of Caranna near Cisternino.
Over the last few millennia the action of rainwater channeling into the cracks has generated some spectacular ravines, karst cavities and caves, among which the best known are those of Castellana. But there are many other caves in the territory, all cataloged by the Catasto delle Grotte della Puglia (the official register of Caves in Puglia) where they can be searched and located.
A publication of great scientific value regarding the geological territory of Puglia is readable on the web: IL PATRIMONIO GEOLOGICO DELLA PUGLIA – THE GEOLOGICAL HERITAGE OF PUGLIA – published by the Geosites Working Group of SIGEA, the Italian Society of Environmental Geology, Puglia Section and made possible thanks to the contribution of the Cassa di Risparmio Foundation of Apulia and the patronage of the Puglia Region.
The mild spring climate of Valle d’Itria, the altitude, the marine currents coming from both the Ionian and the Adriatic sea favor the spontaneous growth of the typical Mediterranean scrub, characterised by thick leaves.
The typical trees of the evergreen Mediterranean forest are everywere: the oak, the holm oak, the maple, the ash tree. The lower and bushy vegetation grow at a lower altitude and nearby the coasts: the asparagus, the lentisk, the butcher’s broom, the viburnum, the cistus and the broom.
Aromatic herbs such as rosemary, thyme, myrtle and some wild herbs widely used in cooking grow spontaneously: chicory, sivoni and rocket. Olives and grapes, planted later and probably from the 7th century BC, with the spread of Hellenic colonization, found their perfect habitat in Valle d’Itria and its surroundings.
Origins of Valle d’Itria
The slope that from Ostuni descends towards the sea was already inhabited in the Paleolithic period dating back to about 30,000 years ago as evidenced by the archaeological remains found in the cave which nowadays are part of the Archaeological Park of Ostuni, one of the most important archaeological sites in Valle d’Itria. This was the residence in which a small community of hunters settled permanently. From that height they could more easily control the migrations of the animals they fed on, mainly horses and wild oxen. Bush-meat together with wild-berry picking was the only form of sustenance. At that time, spontaneous tall conifers grew all around; olive trees will be planted in a much more recent era. The cave holds the skeleton of Delia, a pregnant woman about twenty years old, strong and tall, who had been buried with all honors destined for a goddess, as evidenced by the funeral decorations found on her body.
To the III millennium BC, the Bronze Age, belong the important archaeological remains found near Locorotondo in the districts of Grofoleo, Badessa, Monte del Forno and in the Grotta di Nove Casedde in the territory of Martina Franca in which complete burial urns have been found. From the time of the Longobard domination, during the VI-VII century, the primitive settlements expanded thanks to pastoralism and agriculture. The communities of Valle d’Itria developed around the farms and become specialised in the application of new agricultural techniques and production of dairy products.