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Otranto's exposed location as the most southerly port on Italy's East Coast has assured it of an eventful and at times very bloody history.  At one stage (1480) the entire population was massacred by the Turks (their bones can be found in the Cattedrale Ossuary), then the town was recaptured by Spanish forces a year later.  Today it is a relaxed little holiday port town - filled with oiled brown Italians in the really hot months and red Germans to either side of these - and an Australian in November.  The old town is on a steep hill at the inside edge of the harbour, and at the top of the hill is the southernmost of Puglia's Medieval Byzantine-Norman Cathedrals - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunciata.




The Cattedrale was consecrated in 1088, and by 1165 the entire floor area was covered with fascinating mosaics (including a tree of life whose trunk runs up the middle of the nave floor) most of which are still there and can be seen up close thanks to the fact that "cultural" tourist traffic through this part of Italy is minimal.  The mosaics depict biblical characters (including Adam and Eve, below), warrior kings (including Alexander and, unexpectedly, King Arthur), the last judgement, mythical beasts, pictorial representations of the working activities of each month and the associated Zodiac sign of the month, the building of Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel and many other things.  Truly amazing works which emerged enhanced from a lengthy restoration in the early 1990s.  








EVE          AND          ADAM


More Adam and Eves




And a pendulous bicaudal Mermaid (link to more Mermaids)




The birds-eye view of the whole cathedral floor (above), and the nave (below) are to be found in the Gianfreda book and give a better idea of the mind blowing magnificence of this early mosaic masterpiece.





September - Virgo - Treading grapes whilst Virgo's virgin looks on.  In the top right of the photo you can see one end of Libra's scales.


More photos of labours of the month and Zodiac sign mosaics in Otranto Cattedrale


Link to Paradoxplace page on Zodiacs and Labours of the Month in the Medieval Churches of Euope



An antelope called "GRIS"




The Queen of Saba (sic)




King Saloman




King Alexander



Photo Gianfreda book


Just to the left of King Arthur is this priceless little

"celebrity farewell" scene from the Garden of Eden


King Arthur





North Transept:  San Michele (or possibly Satan), ledger in hand, weighs souls, oblivious of the beast chundering just above.  On the right one of the damned is tipped into the cauldron of hell, which sits on a fire being stoked by the devil.




"Luxuria" representing the downside of the deadly sin of lust but without the refinement of the crotch gnawing serpent often found in France.




Workers - in the top layer they are building Noah an ark (which can just be seen on the top right)




Building the Tower of Babel



Photo Gianfreda book


Basilisco (Cockatrice)





The beautiful crypt predates the Norman church (a common occurence in the old Puglian Cattedrali) and the little capital below is 1400 years old or more.  The light is so bad in the corner that you can hardly see the capital below, but the Dom felt it was so priceless that it merited a bit of Abobying, even if the focus is not up to our normal standards!  The book is another wonderful Italian coffee table job.






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The monthly activity / Zodiac roundels are just to the west of the crossing.



At the moment (early 2008) there don't seem to be any copies of this magnificent hard cover art book available at Amazon.  One option would be to contact the Cattedrale directly (solo Italiano!):


Piazza Basilica, 1, Otranto, Lecce 73028 - Italy

Phone: +39 (0)836 802720



Well, after all that excitement, a good slow lunch seemed the right thing to do, and close to the Cattedrale (just wander up the Via Cenobio Basiliano and hang a right) we found Massimo Panareo's Ristorante Vico Lopez. 


Link to a Fine Seafood Lunch at next door

Ristorante Vico Lopez di Massimo Panareo





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