Presicce, the magical medieval village of the Hypogea

May 25, 2021 | By

Presicce was an Italian town of 5.220 inhabitants in the province of Lecce in Puglia. From 15 May 2019 it is merged with Acquarica del Capo to constitute the new municipality of Presicce-Acquarica.

Presicce

Located in the lower Salento, 62 km from the provincial capital and 8.5 km from the Ionian Sea, it was part of the municipalities belonging to the so-called region of the Salento greenhouses. It adheres to the National Oil City Association and is also known as the “City of the Hypogea”, due to the presence of numerous underground oil mills. In addition, from 2011 it became part of the association “The most beautiful villages in Italy”.

In Presicce, City of Oil and City of Hypogea, everything revolves around the yellow gold, to which a party is dedicated.

The underground mills to visit are those in piazza del Popolo, vico Sant’Anna and via Gramsci. In addition to the monuments, in the historic center you have to see “li vecchio curti”, the courtyard houses in the Corciuli and Padreterno districts. The main ones are located in via E. Arditi, in vico Matteotti (1581), in vico Sant’Anna and in via Anita Garibaldi.

On a height of the Pozzomauro greenhouse there is a small rural church with a gabled facade of the Madonna di Loreto, of Basilian origin.

Behind the church, a Byzantine crypt has been transformed into an underground oil mill.

The countryside around Presicce shows immense expanses of olive trees and farms (courtyards where several families once lived, under the rule of a feudal lord), some fortified following the Saracen and Turkish invasions, such as the La Casarana, Del Feudo and Tunna farms, all sixteenth century.

The inhabited center is located in a valley particularly rich in water. It is dominated by the Serra salentina of Pozzomauro, a hill organized in terraces and dry stone walls along the slopes and covered with Mediterranean scrub, expanses of ancient olive groves and vineyards photo by Quaserta

The masseria de lu Peshcu is from the seventeenth century and the Monaci is from the nineteenth century.

In the eighteenth century the country villas of the landowners, called “casine”, like Casina degli Angeli (1778) and Casina Celle.

Let’s start our virtual tour in this treasure of Puglia!

Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale is also called Palazzo Paternò, and originates from a rearrangement which in the sixteenth century involved an older palace. The oldest information about the building is from the Norman era, but a first castrum was built to defend the first housing units, probably in the Byzantine era.

The current Palazzo Ducale, therefore, incorporates the testimonies of over a thousand years of history. The building has a massive structure, linear elevations marked and lightened by the corner solutions, the elegant Renaissance-style architraved windows, the large loggia, consisting of three richly decorated round arches. The roofs of the internal rooms are generally barrel-vaulted and with a corner, a large staircase has a wooden trussed roof.

Four main building phases can be identified. The first relates to the medieval fort; still visible along the western perimeter there is one of the corner towers, the presence of a deep moat is also documented. The second phase of development takes place between the 16th and 17th centuries, under the dominion of the Gonzaga, of the Cito-Moles and of the Bartilotti-Piccolomini of Aragon.

In 1630 a renovation of the castle was started, softening the rough volumes of the fort, with the large loggia of the western perimeter, with the hanging gardens, built on the embankment of the walls of the southern perimeter and building a new chapel dedicated to the Santissima Annunziata which overlooking the public square.

The rich sculptural decoration of the facade of the chapel also affects the interior, in fact the intrados of the vault is marked by shutters, ribs and apotropaic masks, on the only altar of the sacred building there is a large altarpiece depicting the Annunciation. The third phase which brought further changes took place in the XVIII century.

In 1709, the palace passed to the de ‘Liguoro family and in 1791 the renovation of the courtyard of the palace was started, creating the elegant baroque wing and the double ramp staircase leading to the main floor. Access was also opened, through a portal, to the hanging gardens from Piazza Sant’Andrea (now Piazza Villani). The fourth phase of renovation involved the external elevations of the building. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Duke Paternò decided to place the battlements with a neo-Gothic taste, according to the eclectic fashion of the time and new buildings were added.

Since 1990 it has housed the Museum of Rural Life.

Chiesa del Carmine

The Carmine church, recently restored, was built between 1694 and 1695 and has an altar carved in Lecce stone in a late Baroque style. It has bas-reliefs, carved columns, and tracery.

The Church has a late Baroque altar, carved in Lecce stone with columns rich in carvings, tracery, bas-reliefs.

The bell tower was built in 1951 and replaced the old bell tower, knocked down by lightning.

The Chiesa del Carmine, with the adjoining convent of the Carmelite Fathers dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was built in Presicce in the second half of the 16th century, following a donation by a citizen to the Carmelites of Lecce. The church is of remarkable artistic interest, with the high altar in Lecce stone finely sculpted with twisted columns rich in carvings, bas-reliefs and statues and which still features the wooden choir and pulpit.

The convent, suppressed for the first time in 1652, hosted the friars until 1809, the year in which it was definitively suppressed and forfeited by the state. Subsequently ceded to the municipal administration, in 1883 it underwent a first restructuring necessary to adapt it to host the town hall, the magistrate’s office, the school and the prisons. A second renovation was then carried out between 1930 and 1935.

The convent, which now houses the municipal police command, the municipal library and is intended for socio-cultural activities, has undergone several changes over time and at some point it has been necessary to carry out an intervention of requalification and energy efficiency (official name: “Redevelopment and energy efficiency of the municipal building of the former Convent of the Carmelite Fathers San Giovanni Battista”).

Among the various actions and processes envisaged, insulation was carried out on the envelope, increasing the thermal efficiency of the walls, thanks to the use of thermal plaster, remaking the roofing package with new screeds and insulating layers and repositioning the original coating, creating crawl spaces, installing high efficiency systems, in particular using geothermal energy.

Ancient underground oil mills

The hypogean trappeti are ancient oil mills that, in the Salento area, were used to produce oil. In the municipality of Presicce there is the largest number of these underground areas excavated in calcanerite between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

They represent an interesting testimony of peasant life, fascinating both as structures and for the historical significance they contain.

Guests of the Panoramico Hotel can admire them and appreciate their value with a short journey of about 35 minutes by car. This is the time it takes to travel the approximately 23 km that separate the municipality of Presicce from Castro Marina.

Fans of ancient historical evidence find in Salento a real treasure chest to discover. Among many, Presicce offers a particular attraction, a symbol of peasant fatigue and the ability of the population to use the characteristics of the area for their needs.

For the peasant communities settled in the Salento countryside, olives, and the oil obtained from them, were and are a precious commodity.

In the historic center of the small village in the lower Salento there are several underground oil mills.

The country is also known as the “city of the hypogea” for the large number of underground environments found on its territory.

The many trappeti, underground oil mills, make it clear how flourishing the local economy was based on agriculture and the cultivation of olive trees in particular.

In Presicce the ancient oil mills are located under Piazza del Popolo, in front of the main church and under many of the most important streets. Some of them worked until the last century, with the presses and grinding wheels of the “Calabrese” type which obtained the purest and most natural extra virgin olive oil from olives.

Later they were gradually abandoned to use more modern machinery and technologies. Some of them were filled with soil and forgotten.

Today you are enchanted in seeing these historical places, living and suggestive testimonies of the life of the past.

Presicce has the luck and merit of having rediscovered them and being able to offer them as moments of life lived to those who want to visit them.

The Hotel Panoramico offers the ideal base for getting around the Salento in search of ancient emotions.

The underground crushers are found in the calcarenitic rock for several reasons.

Mother Church of Sant’Andrea Apostolo

The Matrix church named after the patron saint of Presicce, considered one of the most beautiful in the diocese of Ugento, has a Latin cross plan.

The single nave, decorated with eight side altars embellished with stucco decorations and paintings on canvas, ends with a grandiose polychrome marble altar.

Also in marble are the balustrade, the baptistery and the holy water fonts, the latter being the gift of King Francesco I of Bourbon as a manifestation of esteem for the presiccese Michele Arditi, who from 1807 was general director of the Museum of Naples.

Inside there are valuable eighteenth-century wooden statues of the Neapolitan school including those of S. Andrea and S. Vito. Among the paintings on canvas, the work of local authors, the large painting attributed to Catalan, where the Martyrdom of the patron Saint (St. Andrew) stands out, and, in counter-façade, the painting of the Transport of the Ark of the Covenant, attributed to Oronzo Tiso which recalls that preserved in the choir of the church of the Theatines in Lecce.

The paintings depicting the Last Supper, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, Christ and the Samaritan woman are also attributed to Tiso. Del Pesco are The Sacrifice of Isaac, the Sacrifice of Jephthah, Moses saved from the waters, Moses and the tables of the law.

Finally, some paintings from the altars, including L ‘Assunta and La Madonna del Rosario, can be linked to the painter Rachele Lillo or her workshop. The architect and executor of the work was Saverio Negro.

Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli

The church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, with the adjoining convent of the Reformed Fathers, is located outside the city center, on the site where the medieval town of Pozzo Magno (or Pozzomauro) stood, destroyed by the Saracens in the 15th century. The current church was built on the site of an ancient sacred building dating from the XII-XIII century. According to tradition, the construction of the new church is linked to two prodigious events that took place in 1596; in the presence of an image of the Virgin inviting a farmer to be a spokesman for the reconstruction of the building and the healing of a blind man. In 1598, on a project by the baron of Presicce Filippo De Cito who was also an architect, the rebuilding of the church began. In 1603, with the installation of the Reformed Fathers, the convent was built from scratch.

The church, with a Latin cross plan (i.e. T) with a single nave, has a roof with cross vaults crossed by ribs in festoons and richly decorated with eighteenth-century stuccos. Eight altars dedicated to the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, asant’Oronzo and San Pasquale Baylon on the right side are attached along the walls of the nave; the Deposition of Jesus, the Madonna of Constantinople, the Crucifix and San Gerolamo on the left side.

In the transept there are the oldest frescoes of the church, an evident sign of the remains of the ancient structure. These are pictorial works of Byzantine style dating from the XII and XIV centuries and which depict a saint with a beard, a Madonna and Child and other figures that are difficult to understand. Still in the transept, among seventeenth-century paintings, there is the image of another Madonna and Child of the fifteenth century which is the image of the miraculous event.

The main altar leads to two doors that lead to the choir and where you can see the walled doors that put the sacred building in communication with the convent. The convent is distributed around the cloister with a central well which has some wall paintings of the Franciscan school.

On the ground floor is the refectory and the rooms necessary for the activities of the friars; on the upper floor, along the corridor, the monks’ cells and other rooms overlook. Suppressed in 1866, the convent complex fell into a profound abandonment and was subject to numerous thefts.

Addolorata Church

The Addolorata church emerges from the ridge of the hill west of Presicce on a ridge of rock formations cut to make room for the base of the building itself. The chapel has an enviable panoramic position and looks at the valley below in which the inhabited center of Presicce is located. Giacomo Arditi compares the church of the Addolorata to a sentinel who looks at and guards his native town from above.

The intent and will of the Presiccesi to build a chapel to the Blessed Virgin of Sorrows at the expense of the University and the citizens date back to the early 1700s., sometimes less for the construction of the future church of the Sorrows. Among the legacies of the Presiccesi we want to remember that in 1710 the fellow notary Leonardo Paiano roga the testament of the Priest Oronzo Cicco in which it reads: “… item (moreover) I leave to Madonna dei Dolori, when it will be manufactured, all the priestly clothes with the chalice to be kept in said church. “For about 30 years the desire to build this church remained only in the list of good intentions of the Presiccesi.

Not having a patron who could give substantial help to the construction of the building, the construction of the church was able to begin only in the first months of 1739. By the end of 1740, however, its construction was already completed, in fact in this year’s document we meet the name of the oblate (custodian) of the chapel: Gregorio Trotta aged 65. The religious sentiment of the inhabitants of Presicce of the early eighteenth century found the synthesis in the construction of the church of the Addolorata and in the foundation of the Confraternity of “Sa nta Maria dei Sette Dolori “which had its seat in the same chapel.

The Confraternita dell’Addolorata was added to the confraternities that already existed in Presicce in 1700: that of the Sacrament, the Rosary and the Assumption. The Cappella dell’Addolorata had no ecclesiastical benefits either in land or in census capitals. In the Catastuolo of 1742 it is documented that “The venerable universal chapel (of the University) of the Sorrows holds only a small garden that serves for the use of the oblate that serves the Virgin and does not bring any income.

It borders on every state with the state property and is attached to the Chapel”. The building, having been built on the ridge of the hill, had a facade with a significant difference in height from the walking surface, so it was necessary to build a staircase to reach the entrance door of the church.

In 1766, the steps were run down because they were badly made and the Presiccesi gathered in public Parliament decided to “do the steps in front of the Madonna dei Sette Dolori again for greater convenience of the natives (citizens) of this Earth”. The chapel, having been built with public money, was of a “lay” nature; the University therefore had the right to appoint the “procurator”, as well as the prior of the confraternity and the other administrators.

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