Il Borgo di Vignacastrisi

Come to Salento and become Saints

Come to Salento and become Saints

With this slogan, Carmen Mencarella, Director of the journal on tourism and culture of Salento, called Spiagge, in collaboration with the European Union ERDF Fund, Apulia Region, Department of Tourism and the Mediterranean in the province of Lecce, Department of territorial tourism and marketing, Apulia Promotion agency of Apulia Region and the municipalities of Castro, Minervino, Nardò, Salve, Presicce with the Union of Salentine Greece has presented at BIT 2012 in Milan a new way of making tourism and urged tourists to visit her region.


According to Carmen more than visiting the territory, we should interpret it to become protagonists. The opportunity is given by St. Joseph’s Table, which is celebrated between the 18th and 19th of March in Minervino. At two press conferences, organised on Thursday 16th and Friday 17th by Carmen Mancarella, participated the regional councillor for tourism, Silvia Godelli, the Councillor for tourism and territorial marketing in the province of Lecce, Francesco Pacella, the Mayor of Salve, Vincenzo Pasasseo, Councillors of tourism Maurizio Leuzzi from Nardò and Luigi Capraro from Castro, Chamber of Commerce President Alfredo Prete, the delegate of Pugliapromozione for the province of Lecce, Roberta Mazzotta, the Director of Tourism Sector of the province of Lecce, Tonino Rizzo, President of Regional Association of Apulia people in Milan, Dino Abbascià.


Over 100 national and international journalists were invited to experience the thrill of sitting at St Joseph’s Table, interpreting the Saints, starting from the next educational that will take place between March 15-19, 2012 under the auspice of 28 private partners, including the Association of Vignacastrisi Tourist Operators, The tour will include visits not only to Minervino and Vignacastrisi, the two centres of idruntino, with the famous Table, but also to Martignano to listen to the Salentine Greece songs of passion, to witness the rite of passage through the stone in the chapel of San Vito and to visit such cities of art-and-sea like Castro, Salve, Presicce and Nardo.

“Major events,” explains the councillor of tourism and territorial marketing of the province of Lecce, Francesco Pacella, “help us to adjust tourism seasonally, demonstrating how Salento, our beautiful land can be seen all year round”.


But we go into the details of the tourist package presented at the BIT.

In mid-March in the idruntino inland villages like Minervino and Vignacastrisi is celebrated St. Joseph’s feast in a completely original way. On the 18th and 19th of March they revive the St. Joseph’s Table, organised in the square by the municipalities and by private homes, as a sign of devotion to the Saint. A 40 metres long table is served in the squares for the Holy Family and the Ten Saints. Up to nine servings representing the best of Salentine cuisine are tasted while praying, each of those having a great symbolic value.


The Holy Family composed of Mary, Joseph and Jesus sits beside Ten Saints: Saint Anne, Saint Elizabeth, St. Zechariah, St. Joachim, St. Philip, St. John, Saint Mary of Clopas, St. Agnes and St. Joseph of Arimathea. They all wear everyday closes, instead of coloured folk costumes. Every year, in fact, to impersonate the Saints are close people, those who suffer or some illustrious guests.


The journal of tourism and culture of Salento, called Spiagge, (, the province of Lecce, Department of territorial tourism and marketing, the Agency Pugliapromozione, the Chamber of Commerce of Lecce, the Pro Loco of Minervino (, the Association of Vignacastrisi Tourist Operators, Vi.t.o. (, the B&Bs House of Pasca Cocumola, (, give the possibility to their guests to impersonate the Saints. It’s an experience to go through as it is full of suggestions.


The tourist package also proposes to visit the municipalities of Castro, Minervino, Nardo, Salve, Presicce and Salentine Greece Union, to assist the particular rites of Holy week and Easter.




The Table tired with white embroidered tablecloths and lilies, is served with pasta and chickpeas (“mass” in dialect) which represents the colours of narcissus that blooms in spring. Onions in olive oil and pickled onions symbolize the transition from winter to summer, fried seafood reminds of Jesus, the cauliflower symbolizes St. Joseph’s blooming stick, “ncartiddate” (Salentine sweets covered with honey) stand for bands of Child Jesus, while stock-fish was the food of the great occasions.

Even the way in which the servings are consumed is particular: Saint Joseph takes the top of The Table, gripping his stick. He tastes the meals and twice beats the ground with the stick indicating the other diners to terminate or proceed to another course, all the while reciting prayers.




The Table precede the rites of Holy week, Easter Day and Easter Monday of Salento, which this year falls on April 8th and 9th. During Lent they live unique rituals. In the churches of Calimera, the village of Salentine Greece, that is the area composed of eleven villages in the heart of Salento, where it is still spoken the griko language, are echoing its inhabitants prayers in griko. The aim is to turn to God using his mother-tongue, which in these villages at one time was neither Italian nor the Salentino dialect, but the language griko, a dialect very similar to the Greek which, according to one source, was imported to Salento by ancient Greek colonists, according to another – by Byzantine monks, around the year one thousand.

At Martigano the group Arakne performs Mediterranean Songs of Passion, ancient songs in griko that farmers sang throughout Lent, walking with flutes and tambourines between the farms. They sang the Passion of the Christ, getting very emotional and crying.



THE EASTER MONDAY is not to be missed. At Calimera on the Angel’s Monday (April 9th) they celebrate the rite of rebirth. In the Church of San Vito, on the outskirts of the village, there is a big stone stuck in the floor with a hole in the center. Anyone, thin or fat, manages to get through it. It brings luck: it is the symbol of fertility.



A seaside town, a fishing town, a messapian town, Castro is divided into two: Castro Alta and Castro marina and overlooks the Adriatic Sea about 20 kilometers south of Otranto. Castro climbs high on the rock, dominating a breathtaking panorama. At its feet extends Castro marina, surrounded by crystal-clear and deep sea, with good fish to taste while walking along the waterfront in the evening.

The remains of Byzantine civilization can be read in the ancient suburb of Castro: the crypt with almond-eyed Oriental Saints, the foundations of the ancient messapian town, the medieval houses that remained intact. During the excavation, the team led by Professor D’Andria has discovered a small bronze statue of the goddess Minerva with the remains of the temple dedicated to her. It’s the scientific confirmation that Castrum Minervae, mentioned by Virgil in Book VI of the Aeneid was Castro. Aeneas saw his temple from a distance that appeared and disappeared for an optical effect, and rejoiced because he was about to make landfall on the banks inhabited by a people who had the same Greek costumes, the messapians.



On the Ionian bank rises the beautiful Nardò, with a historical centre, which is just six kilometres far from the sea. This Salento town is known by the vast stretchers of secular olive trees, it is the oil town par excellence and its wine negroamaro gets more and more confirmation in international markets. The historical centre with baroque churches, noble palaces and Court farmhouses, typical of Salento, is experiencing a moment of rebirth and revitalization. More and more people have decided to buy their second house in Nardò: British, French, and many northerners.

Nardò was awarded by the Gold Medal for Civic Value by the President of the Republic for the fact that immediately after World War II they welcomed Jews in marine villas of Santa Maria al Bagno. Stories of love and friendship emerged at that time, presently retold in the Museum of Santa Maria al Bagno, a house used by the Jews liberated from the concentration camps and characterized by the graffiti where they reveal their dream of the return to the Promised Land.

Further north there is St. Catherine to visit with its Portoselvaggio and protected marine area, regional nature park Palude del Capitano, which extends all the way to Porto Cesareo.



Remaining on the Ionian coast, there is a very elegant town to visit: Presicce. More than thirty hypogeum oil mills lurk beneath the main square. Presicce was a large oil production factory, as oil was considered petroleum until the beginning of the year 800 because it was used not only for cooking, but also and especially to illuminate the streets and houses.

From the main square where the roof garden of the Princess overlooks you can admire noble buildings of extreme elegance that keep secret gardens, gardens of delights where they used to walk and meditate in the shade of orange trees and exotic plants.

Another particularity is the historical centre of Padreterno district, where the typical court farmhouses overlook a maze of alleys.


But Salento is not only Messapian, Byzantine and Baroque styles. There are important testimonials of man’s life, even in prehistoric times. In Minervino, in the Park of the Megaliths, lies the second dolmen of Apulia, the dolmen “Li Scusi.” It’s a magic stone and if you try to get through it you can feel its positive energy. A hole in the roof allows sunlight to penetrate. There also appear to be many interpretations of the magic circle made of stones that look like seats with a kind of throne in the middle. Perhaps there met the Assembly of the Grand Council. Nearby there are two large menhirs. Jutting into the sky they seem to recite the wish of man to touch the sky.