Coastal towers in Salento

The Salento peninsula has been the “gateway to Italy” for centuries, a border territory, where historical events have influenced the fabric of the settlement fabric and have determined architecture that still stands out today for its monumentality. The ancient coastal towers in Salento are some of the most important historical testimonies of the period in which the region represented the frontier of Europe, the bridge from the Western world to the East.

It may be the intersection between sky and sea, it may be that they tell a distant story, it may be that hint of wildness that they still retain, but the almost one hundred coastal towers of Salento really deserve to be seen.

Like silent guardians in stone, imposing, overlooking the sea, some ruins that seem to emerge from the rocks, others solitary like nobles in exile, chase each other endlessly, defining the first defensive line of the South against the raids of pirates, Saracens and Turks.

Torre Colimena
Torre Colimena ©foodphotographer.puglia via Canva

Historical aspect of the coastal towers in Salento

  • The first towers in Salento were built during the Roman Empire: others followed, built in the Middle Ages, under Swabian domination and then under Angevin domination. The construction of the towers followed very specific criteria, as they had to be able to communicate with the nearest ones, through precise light signals put in place by sentries located at the top, in order to signal possible dangers coming from the sea. Furthermore, their location was chosen in order to have the best possible view also towards the hinterland, so that any alarm signals could be launched promptly from the fortification.
  • However, the phenomenon took on considerable importance between 1558 and 1567, to deal with the continuous raids. 339 towers were built throughout the South and 96 in Puglia alone: 16 in the Bari area, 80 in the Otranto area, a much larger area, as we know, than the current Province of Lecce.
  • Unfortunately, most of them show all the signs of aging, but others have been the subject of recovery and restoration and all their peculiarities have been brought to light.

Structure of the coastal towers in Salento

  • The towers of the medieval era were built mainly with a square plan, with a scarp base and a top terrace demarcated by battlements with slits on the walls.
  • During the Renaissance era the towers generally took on a circular shape, with the entrance often placed on the upper floor.
  • At the end of the 15th century, the Kingdom of Naples, faced with the intensification of attacks, decided to restore and complete the system of coastal towers. Tall, majestic in the severe simplicity of the architectural lines, they are cylindrical and quadrangular with a truncated pyramidal base.
  • Missing, at least in the Lecce area, are those in the shape of a star or a “priest’s hat” as in the case of those of Torre Santa Sabina and San Pietro in Bevagna. The former, which are the oldest, were mainly for sighting purposes, the latter also had defensive purposes and were equipped with catapults, thrusters, culverins and firearms: some recovered and are in an excellent state of preservation, others, unfortunately, in state of total abandonment. Sometimes they are real fortresses such as the so-called tower of the Four Columns of Santa Maria al Bagno of which only the four corner columns remain standing today.

Journey to discover the coastal towers in Puglia

There are no real itineraries to choose from to discover the coastal towers in Salento. Many of the towers are located close to some of the most famous holiday resorts, others immersed in suggestive oases, sandwiched between wild nature and the typical crystalline sea that bathes the coastal areas.

This unusual tour of the ancient coastal towers in Salento is a nice and different way to experience the area, to get to know the unique places and landscapes of a timeless, beautiful and fascinating Puglia!

I will list just some of the most important towers that populate the coasts of Salento starting from the Gargano to the tip of Capo di Leuca and then going up to Taranto.

The Towers in the province of Foggia

In the province of Foggia the coastal towers extend along the entire coast of the Gargano and significant are those erected in the territory of the Municipality of San Nicandro Garganico: Torre Calarossa, of which today only a few ruins remain and Torre Mileto, built on a quadrangular base, as imposing as a few others with the four corners facing the cardinal points, it also has five machicolations and a stone staircase which leads to the first floor.

Torre Mileto
Torre Mileto ©lucalorenzelli via Canva

The Towers in the province of Bari

Going down towards Bari, one of the most important is Torre Calderina, between Molfetta and Bisceglie, in the center of a splendid area where in addition to the Mediterranean scrub there are archaeological sites, ancient villas, trulli, dry stone walls, caves, liame and pebble beaches . In the land of Bari one of the most evocative remains that of San Vito which takes its name from the nearby Abbey in the territory of Polignano a Mare.

The Towers in the province of Taranto

Long sandy beaches and a crystalline sea characterize the coast up to the border with the territory of Taranto where Torre Colimena stands, in the municipality of Manduria, which with its machicolations and the signs of the drawbridge placed close to the staircase, guards the long stretch of golden beach.

The Towers in the province of Brindisi

In the province of Brindisi, among the best preserved towers we find that of Torre Guaceto inside the natural park of the same name where you can stop to observe passing and resident birds, and the imposing Torre Santa Sabina on the coast of the town of Carovigno. Worth a stop and a photographic memory are Torre Specchiolla on the border between the territories of Brindisi and Lecce, Torre Sant’Andrea in Melendugno and the Torri del Serpe and dell’Orte in Otranto.

The Towers in the province of Lecce

  • From San Foca you reach Roca Vecchia, a once thriving Messapian city and then a very active port equipped with a fortress of which the evocative ruins are preserved. The tower, also reduced to ruins, dates back to 1568 and has the typical truncated pyramid structure just like Torre dell’Orso in the seaside resort of the same name.
  • Once in Otranto we head to L’Orte. First you come across the cylindrical Torre del Serpe. Further on are the Masseria dell’Orte and the Torre dell’Orte, a large and low truncated pyramid structure which served as a fort.
  • Returning to the coast road, you head towards Torre Sant’Emiliano where a truncated cone tower dominates one of the most beautiful stretches of the eastern Salento coast. The coastal road leads to Porto Badisco and Santa Cesarea, locations defended by Torre Minervino, Torre Specchia di Guardia, Torre Santa Cesarea and the imposing Torre Miggiano.
Torre Miggiano
Torre Miggiano ©TheSP4N1SH via Canva
  • On the Ionian side, between Ugento and the Nardò marina, the Palude del Capitano extends, a wetland where a particular marshy habitat has been created. Watching over the caves is a sixteenth-century giant but now almost reduced to a ruin: Torre Uluzzo, known as Porto Selvaggio.
  • In Santa Maria al Bagno you can admire the Torre del Fiume, better known as the “Four Columns”, because the perimeter walls of an ancient castle collapsed.
  • Continuing towards Gallipoli, before reaching the Torre del Pizzo, you pass through one of the most naturalistically interesting areas of the province of Lecce.
  • Continuing south you come across Torre Suda, while in the territory of Ugento you will find Torre San Giovanni, one of the most “in” places on the coast, where the landscape becomes even more suggestive thanks to a dense pine forest with specimens of Aleppo pine that extends onto the beach.
Torre San Giovanni ©diegofiore via Canva
Torre San Giovanni

Among the most popular in the summer months, it owes its name to the tower built in the 16th century by Charles V to monitor the coast. Its appearance today is very particular, as it is covered with black and white checkered tiling, therefore easy to remember for tourists and to identify for sailors.

Torre Vado ©
Torre Vado: crystal clear waters and shallow waters

A few minutes from Santa Maria di Leuca, on the Ionian coast of Salento, Torre Vado takes its name from the watchtower of the same name.

Torre Pali ©
Torre Pali

Torre Pali, a fraction of Salve, is a seaside resort in the province of Lecce not far from Gallipoli.