A visit to Puglia isn’t complete without spending at least a few hours in Gallipoli. Staying there isn’t necessary to see all it has to offer and getting there is simple enough to do wherever in Puglia you might be. And if seafood is your thing, you are sure to be delighted!
Where is Gallipoli?
The town of Gallipoli sits on the inner part of the heel of Italy’s boot, facing out onto the the stunning Ionian Sea upon the Salento peninsula in the Province of Lecce. This region is not to be confused with its Turkish namesake, made famous by the First World War’s Battle of Gallipoli. Like its Turkish namesake, it was given its name by the Greeks whose historical influence in the region is great indeed, with the name Gallipoli coming from the Greek ‘Καλλίπολις’ – Kalli Polis, meaning ‘Beautiful City’. Apart from sharing the name, the two Gallipolis have nothing to do with each other whatsoever and are completely unrelated.
Getting to Gallipoli
If you plan on staying in Gallipoli the nearest airport to fly into is Brindisi, approximately an hour away by car. If you are hiring a vehicle to get you from the airport or are already in Puglia, you need to drive down via Lecce along the SS101. The journey from Lecce is about 42km and should only take approximately 40 minutes. Enter the destination as ‘Gallipoli, 73014 Province of Lecce, Italy’ into the Sat Nav. There is ample parking in the old town and the prices of the car parks are quite reasonable too.
You can also take a trip to Gallipoli quite easily by train from Lecce by taking the Ferrovia del Sud Est line, which will get you there in an hour. Do note that the route doesn’t run on Sundays but you can check out their routes and information on their website here before you head off.
The History of Gallipoli
Gallipoli is said to have been originally founded either by Idomenius of Crete or by the Messapians. Regardless of who can take the credit for its founding, it was developed into a prosperous, powerful colony within the Magna-Grecia. In 265BC it fought against Ancient Rome and, having lost its battle, became a part of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Romans developed a trade route through to the Balkans, the Via Traiana, and Gallipoli later became a military centre before being granted a Municipium status during the later years of the Empire.
Like Puglia itself, its geographical position made it a prime location for maritime attack by invaders and many battles were fought there, resulting in its sacking by the Vandals in 450AD as they passed through on their way to Rome. The Goths then pillaged Gallipoli too until the Byzantines came along, captured and rebuilt the area.
The Byzantines, who by now ruled over the whole of southern Italy, further developed Gallipoli’s harbour, building its fortifications and in turn increasing the town’s trading power and economic influence until it was occupied by the Normans in the 11th century.
For a while, all was peaceful in Gallipoli. And then came further attacks from the Aragonese, Saracens, Anjou, Spanish, French and Venetians. It eventually was passed onto the Kingdom of Naples, with King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies constructing the port which, during the 18th century, would become the largest olive oil market in the whole of the Mediterranean.
What to see in Gallipoli
Today, things are somewhat quieter for the gem in Italy’s heel. Once an old fishing village, the expansion of Gallipoli stretches from the old city located upon a limestone and the new part of town onto which it is attached by a 16th century bridge, the Ponte Citta Vecchia, which separates the two harbours either side of it.
Fishing is still a major trade in Gallipoli. Our early morning visit afforded us the time to wander around slowly, spending a while just standing and watching as the fishing boats came into the port and the fishermen unloaded their catches of the day.
As you would expect, Gallipoli is the seafood lover’s dream destination. The smell of fresh fish fills the air as you walk through the fish market, with the morning’s haul being brought in from the boat and set out onto ice as you watch. Fish does not come any fresher than this. This is the biggest fish market in Salento and you can find it sitting in the shadow of the castle.
For those of you not planning on buying fish to take back and cook yourself, you can have a taste of the town’s culinary offerings at one of its many restaurants and trattorias dotted through the town. Take a seat along the coastline and indulge in a seafood lunch as you watch the waves. It’s easy to wish time would stand still here, just for a moment at least.
Outdoor markets are popular here in Gallipoli and lovers of unique finds shouldn’t miss the town’s antique market which is held on the first Sunday of the month. Don’t be embarrassed to barter – it’s expected and prices are accounted for being bargained on, so make a deal and grab some goodies!
Gallipoli Castle, or the Castello di Gallipoli, is found on the old part of town and you really can’t miss it The castle is surrounded by sea and is located at the entrance of the old town’s peninsula connected by the bridge. If you’re looking for the fish market and don’t know where to go just head for the castle.
Originally built by the Byzantines in the 13th century it came under attack by many invaders in subsequent years, all of whom left some mark or another upon it. It is now open to the public to visit or by guided tour by prior arrangement. The castle has a quadrangular shape along with three crenellated circular towers and a fourth polygonal tower. Venture inside to discover staircases and corridors leading to courtyards and arcades, a fresco-decorated chapel and reception halls where exhibitions and cultural events are held.
Relatively simple, it only takes an hour or so to explore and entry is permitted until half an hour before closing. The Castello di Gallipoli is closed on Mondays from October to March and open every day from April to September. Check out the opening times which change depending on the month and find further information on the castle’s website at castellogallipoli.it.
Along the west end of the bridge is the Fontana Greca (Greek Fountain), a fountain said to be the oldest in Italy. Made of the famous local Lecce stone, the fountain was thought to have been built in the 3rd century BC but ongoing studies have now dated it from the Renaissance period instead. Regardless, it’s worth a stroll over to take a look at this local piece of history.
The Spiaggia della Purità is only a ten minute walk from Gallipoli Porto, an area which also offers a generously sized car park which, to our relief, doesn’t have a height restriction, therefore making it suitable for high vehicles like our minibus. This map shows you where to park and where to head for…
The name Spiaggia della Purità translates to ‘Beach of Purity’, is a sandy beach with the clearest of waters, clearn adn calm. It is easy to see how it is a beachlover’s paradise and why so many photos have been taken of this familiar stretch of Puglian coastline.
It is well worth the visit to Gallipoli just to marvel at the colour of that water. Just look at it!
You don’t need to stay in Gallipoli to experience the best of its offerings. We found that we could see and do everything we wanted to over the best part of one day, although there are ample Bed and Breakfast accommodations in the old town if you do plan on staying longer.
Oh, and the sunsets over it are quite unmissable too!