Otranto - Encyclopedia

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OTRANTO, a seaport and archiepiscopal see of Apulia, Italy, in the province of Lecce, from which it is 291 m. S.E. by rail, 49 ft. above sea-level. Pop. (1901) 2295. It is beautifully situated on the east coast of the peninsula of the ancient Calabria. The castle was erected by Alphonso of Aragon; the cathedral, consecrated in 1088, has a rose window and side portal of 1481. The interior, a basilica with nave and two aisles, contains columns said to come from a temple of Minerva and a fine mosaic pavement of 1166, with interesting representations of the months, Old Testament subjects, &c. It has a crypt supported by forty-two marble columns. The church of S. Pietro has Byzantine frescoes. Two submarine cables start from Otranto, one for Valona, the other for Corfu. The harbour is small and has little trade.

Otranto occupies the site of the ancient Hydrus or Hydruntum, a town of Greek origin. In Roman times it was less important than Brundusium as a point of embarkation for the East, though the distance to Apollonia was less than from Brundusium. It remained in the hands of the Byzantine emperors until it was taken by Robert Guiscard in 1068. In 1480 it was utterly destroyed by the Turkish fleet, and has never since recovered its importance. About 30 m. S.E. lies the promontory of S. Maria di Leuca (so called since ancient times from its white cliffs), the S.E. extremity of Italy, the ancient Promontorium Iapygium or Sallentinum. The district between this promontory and Otranto is thickly populated, and very fertile. (T. As.)

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