Grecìa Salentina: history, municipalities, traditions and restaurants [guide 2023]

In this article we will take you on an authentic journey to discover Grecìa Salentina: a complete guide, starting with history and continuing with traditions, culture and gastronomy. If you want to visit the more typical Salento, the more off the beaten track one, then this area will be just right for you!

Grecìa Salentina is a Hellenic-speaking island of Salento and is made up of 9 municipalities where the neo-Greek dialect called griko is spoken. The seat of the Union is Martano, but let’s see together which are the municipalities of Grecìa Salentina.

Grecìa Salentina municipalities

The municipalities that make up Grecìa Salentina have always been 9, but since 2007 other non-Greek-speaking towns have been added, reaching 60000 inhabitants in the entire area. There are currently 11 centres that make it up: Calimera, Carpignano Salentino, Castrignano dei Greci, Corigliano d’Otranto, Cutrofiano, Martano, Martignano, Melpignano, Soleto, Sternatia, Zollino. Griko is still spoken today, mainly by older people, especially in the municipalities of Sternatia, Martignano, Calimera, Corigliano d’Otranto, Zollino and Martano. Unfortunately, however, young people do not know the language and we will most likely one day lose this cultural side that is part of Grecìa Salentina.

History of Grecìa Salentina

The arrival of Greeks in the Salento occurred both during Magna Graecia and during Byzantine rule, especially when many religious people emigrated due to the disputes over iconoclasm, in the 8th century, and following the military campaigns of Emperor Basil I. During this period, the numerous villages had Greek culture and language and practised the Greek Orthodox religion.

Following the Norman conquest and the subsequent Swabian, Angevin, Aragonese and Spanish dominations, Catholic clergy and monks supplanted the Orthodox and the Greek language also fell into disuse. Unfortunately, after World War II, the number of people speaking Greek decreased even more.

From the 1990s onwards, the Hellenic-speaking municipalities decided to unite to cooperate, with the aim of promoting their culture and ancient traditions, until June 8th 1990, when the Consortium of Municipalities of the Grecìa Salentina was officially established. Then, in 1996, the Association of the Municipalities of Grecìa Salentina was established to safeguard culture and language and to promote the territory. Finally, in 2001, the Union of the Municipalities of Grecìa Salentina was established.

Grecìa Salentina traditions

The Passion Song in Griko

Among the various traditions of Grecìa Salentina, it is worth mentioning, in particular, that of the Easter period, during which the inhabitants used to listen to the story of the Passion of Christ during Holy Week. This is a religious song in the Grecìa Salentina language of very ancient origins, which was sung, from the fifth Sunday of Lent until Holy Thursday, in the various municipalities.

Usually, there were two or three singers and they accompanied their voices with the sound of the accordion, arousing great interest and emotion in the listeners. Today, unfortunately, the tradition has been lost, but when some singers reintroduce the song in the squares, they always manage to involve the people, recreating that magical atmosphere that takes the hands back in time.

The Quaremma

Another tradition of Gracìa Salentina, again linked to the Easter period, refers to the quaremma or coremma, a figure widespread throughout the Salento. The quaremma is a puppet depicting an old woman dressed in black, which was hung on terraces, windowsills or balconies, symbolising the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent.
In the making of this puppet, a sort of competition was created between those who made the most beautiful coremma. This character, rich in meanings, is basically a didactic allegory: it served as a reminder that the Church was going through a period of mourning, which is why all kinds of celebrations were forbidden and sacrifices and renunciations had to be made.

What to see in Grecìa Salentina

The area of Grecìa Salentina is made up of gentle hills, olive groves and small but authentic villages where time seems to stand still. A typical trip to Salento cannot but include a stop in this area of the peninsula, which is full of things to tell. There are also many things to see in Grecìa Salentina: let’s see them together!

Sternatia

Here is what to see in Sternatia, a small, quiet village:

  • Granafei Palace
  • Frantoio ipogeo (underground oil mill; to visit it you need to address to the village tourist office)
  • Porta Filia
  • Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church)
  • Crypt of San Sebastiano

Grecia salentina palazzo Granafei Sternatia

Calimera

What to see in Calimera? Here are our recommendations:

  • Chapel of San Vito
  • Salento Natural History Civic Museum
  • Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church)
  • Dolmen “Placa”
  • Dolmen Gurgulante

Martignano

Martignano is the smallest municipality in Grecìa Salentina, but no less interesting for that. So here are the town’s main attractions:

  • Pozzelle Park
  • Church of S. Maria dei Martiri
  • Chapel of St John the Baptist
  • Mantuan Chapel
  • Convent of the Minor Franciscans

Castrignano dei Greci

If you want to visit Castrignano dei Greci, here is what you must not miss:

  • Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church)
  • Coia Palace
  • Peschiulli Palace
  • Comi Palace
  • Clock Tower
  • Castle

Martano

Martano is the largest municipality in Grecìa Salentina and here is what you can see:

  • Baronial Palace
  • Aragonese Castle
  • Andrichi Moschettini Palace
  • Archaeological sites including the Menhir of Theophilus and the Specchia dei Mori
  • Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church)
  • Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church) of Martano

Chiesa Matrice di Martano

Carpignano Salentino

The small village of Carpignano Salentino is a fascinating discovery, especially walking through the narrow streets of its pretty old centre. Here you can visit:

  • Ducal Palace
  • Mediaeval walls
  • Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Cave
  • Byzantine Crypt
  • Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church)
  • The MusArCa Archaeological Museum

carpignano salentino frantoio

Melpignano

Melpignano is best known for the Notte della Taranta, but it also has many points of interest:

  • Palazzo Marchesale
  • Church of the Carmine
  • Mother Church
  • Piazza San Giorgio with the Clock Tower
  • Former Augustinian convent
  • Augustinian Convent Melpignano

Convento degli Agostiniani Melpignano

Soleto

Among the things to see in Soleto we suggest:

  • Old town
  • Church of Santa Sofia
  • Church of Santo Stefano
  • Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church)
  • Spire of Raimondello and Porta di San Vito

Via del Centro Storico di Soleto

Zollino

Despite its small size, Zollino has so many things to see, here are some of them:

  • Votive column of San Pietro
  • Menhir Sant’Anna – Lumardu, and the Station Menhir
  • Dolmen Cranzari
  • Le Pozzelle
  • Frantoio ipogeo (underground oil mill
  • Church of Sant’Anna
  • Church of SS. Peter and Paul
  • Calvary
  • Our Lady of Loreto Chapel
  • St Joseph of Cupertino Chapel
  • St. Vitus Chapel
  • St. John the Baptist Chapel
  • Votive column of San Pietro in Zollino

Colonna votiva di San Pietro zollino grecia salentina

Cutrofiano

Cutrofiano is small and pretty and it is the largest centre of ceramics production in southern Salento. Here are some things to see:

  • Museum of Ceramics
  • Church of Maria SS. della Neve
  • Church of the Congrega dell’Immacolata
  • Ducal Palace

Grecia salentina cutrofiano

Corigliano d’Otranto

Corigliano d’Otranto is one of the liveliest and most charming municipalities of Grecìa Salentina, with a very interesting old town. What to see in Corigliano? Here are our recommendations:

  • Castle
  • Arch of the Lucchetti and Church of San Nicola
  • Dolmen Caroppo 1 and Caroppo 2

castello di Corigliano d'otranto grecia salentina

Where to eat in Grecìa Salentina

Are you looking for restaurants and places to eat in Grecìa Salentina? We suggest some of the best in the area where you can try typical dishes of Salento gastronomy and more!

  • La porta antica in Sternatia
  • Vesuvio 3 Ristorante Pizzeria in Calimera
  • Trattoria Nonna Consiglia in Martignano
  • Gusto in Castrignano dei Greci
  • Portico San Giorgio in Melpignano
  • Masseria Giamarra in Carpignano Salentino
  • Sole Griko in Soleto
  • Ristorantino Da Fabio in Zollino
  • Jack’n Jill in Cutrofiano
  • 400 Il Ristorantino in Corigliano d’Otranto

Tarantella pizzica Grecìa Salentina

Many people believe that the tarantella and the pizzica are the same thing. In reality, although both refer to two types of dance typical of Salento, they have different meanings. Let’s have look at them together:

Tarantella

The tarantella or taranta is the oldest dance and originated mainly as a healing ritual. It is linked to the legend that men and women working in the fields were bitten by the spider Lycosa Tarentula, or tarantula. It was said that after being bitten by this spider, people experienced abdominal and muscular pains, convulsions, delirium, a state of trance and fatigue, and that musical exorcism was therefore needed to heal them. That is why, with the music of the tarantella, people would begin to wiggle, just as if they were being exorcised.

Pizzica

The pizzica, on the other hand, originated as a folk dance and is based on the tradition of the taranta. It is mainly a courtship dance between a man and a woman, but it is danced both in pairs and solo. The woman is the one who leads the dance, while the man dances around her and woos her without ever touching her. A real show that leaves speechless. Although less widespread, the pizzica is still danced today, especially during popular festivals and fairs in Salento.

Grecìa Salentina Marathon 2023

Did you know that the Grecìa Salentina Marathon will be held Octoober 29th 2023? A route that will start in Calimera and will involve all the municipalities of Grecìa Salentina. Discover all the details on the website.

Are you looking for a structure in Salento? Browse our categories!

Team HDSalento

Team HDSalento

Articles by the HDSalento team

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