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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Spotlight on Galatina

PART 60: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.


We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.

Step 1: As we explore towns in Puglia, we discover some gems worth sharing. Some of these are well-known tourist magnets; others are lesser known but always amazing. This week, let's explore Galatina.


Step 2: History. Stories and legends influence our knowledge of Galtina. Still, the owl on the city's coat of arms hints at the Greek origins of the town since this bird was sacred to the goddess Minerva, who was worshiped in the area of Magna Grecia.


  • The town was recorded as "St. Peter in Galatina" in a document dating from 1188, which captures the legend that the apostle Peter stopped here on his way to Rome around 42 AD.

  • In the 14th century, Galatina came under the control of the Orsini family, and Count Raimondello gave the town its first great church in 1390. Triumphantly returned from the Holy Land and bearing a relic of Saint Catherine, Raimondello decided to build a church in her honor. The result is a fine example of late Romanesque Puglian architecture.


  • In the 16th century, leaders erected the present-day walls and gates because of the growing need for defenses.


  • In the 17th and 18th centuries, Gelatina experienced its golden age. Lecce's baroque style from this time is evident in many of its historical buildings. The Galatinese nobility was particularly interested in creating imposing, decorated doorways and balconies. You can see examples of this in the Palazzo del Concerto, the Palazzo Scrimeri, and the Palazzo San Lorenzo-Bardoscia with its elaborate facade.

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Step 3: Sights.

1) The church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria church is a must. When I first saw the frescoes in this church, I was speechless. Every time I return, I discover something new.


  • The architecture of Santa Caterina is an excellent example of the Apulian Romanesque style, with incredible portals and a carved facade.


  • Inside are incredible 15th-century frescoes that depict everything from early stories from the book of Genesis to scenes from St. Catherine's life, events from Christ's life, and scenes from church history.


  • There is lots more; the fun part is discovering a new image or story each time one goes. The last time I went, I asked the Franciscan about the meaning of the frescoes. He explained that the artist was influenced by the class system of the time; in the back, where the poorer citizens sat, mostly Old Testament stories were painted, with themes of purification and judgment. In the front, where the nobility sat, are scenes of the life of Christ and redemption. At the back of the church, above the entry doors, the last scene that one sees, whether rich or poor, is the Last Judgement. Perhaps, this priest said, to remind each who enters and exits that, in the end, we are all equal.

2) Other sights include the walled historical center, baroque architecture, and three original gates: Porta Luce, Porta San Pietro, and Porta Cappuccini. We always enjoy wandering around this beautiful historical center, exploring ancient churches, interesting shops, and cool cafes.


3) Visit Pasticceria Ascalone, which invented Puglia's signature sweet, the pasticciotto - a crumbly pastry filled with a rich cream.


4) See the St. Peter and Paul church—a late baroque architecture church carved in Lecce stone facing the main piazza. The church dates from 1633 and is located in the town's main square. The façade is decorated with carved stone statutes. Inside are cycles of frescoes telling stories from the life of St. Peter. It is an elegant church and worth a visit.


Step 5: Cool things. We always start visiting Galatina at Cafe della Rosa, a glass-walled cafe in a city park encircled by a roadway. Since it is right outside the historical center, getting a coffee and a sweet is our ideal way to start our visit.


Insights: There is much more to Galatina than I have covered here, making it fun to return there repeatedly. The city's streets and allies always beckon us to explore and discover a historical palace, church, shop, or cafe.


More next time.


My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Puglia-Californians-Southern-Italy/dp/1913680649.




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