San Vito dei Normanni is an Italian town of 19,947 inhabitants of the province of Brindisi in Apulia. The inhabitants are called Sanvitesi and the town is sometimes referred to as San Vito.
The town is located in the northeast of the Salento plains, not far from the Itria Valley. It is located 9 kilometres (6 miles) from the Adriatic coast, the port nearest beach Specchiolla, a historic marine residence of San Vito. San Vito also is 5 km (3 mi) from the Torre Guaceto, located in Serranova, a nature reserve, accessible by foot or bicycle (Pennagrossa Point), and 12 km (7 mi) from the tower which gives its name to the protected area. The Ionian Sea is about 45 km (28 mi) away. Its altitude is around 100 metres (328 feet) above sea level precisely between 57–146 m (187–479 ft). The highest point of the city center is located in Contrada Castello d’Alceste, 1,190 m (3,904 ft) asl.
The landscape is characterized by cultivated fields with oak and olive trees and divided by stone walls used to separate farms. The distances from major cities of Puglia are:
- 21.6 km (13 mi) from Brindisi,
- 59.1 km (37 mi) from Lecce,
- 61.1 km (38 mi) from Taranto,
- 101.6 km (63 mi) from Bari,
- 152.7 kn from Trani,
- 160.8 km (100 mi) from Andria,
- 165.8 km (103 mi) from Barletta,
- 235.3 km (146 mi) from Foggia
The name of the city once included the words “degli Schiavoni”, meaning “of the Slavs”. To escape the persecutions of the Saracens, they migrated from Dalmatia to the opposite coast of the Adriatic, settling in late 963 in the fertile regions of Apulia. After that the town was called simply St Vitus, or St Vitus of the Slavs, or else San Vito in Terra d’Otranto. In 1863, after being returned to the Kingdom of Italy, which had been formed in 1861, the name of San Vito degli Schiavoni was changed and it assumed its current name of “San Vito dei Normanni” in honor of the man who is considered the founder of the medieval village, Bohemond of Hauteville (1050–1111), son of Robert Guiscard.
The small village originally grew in the late Middle Ages when the Normans ensured security from the constant attacks of the Saracens. This relative calm gave the opportunity to develop Sanvitesi trade, and to dominate the surrounding territory. It was in the 15th century that the town was organized as a commune, though feudalservitude continued. The commune belonged to the Altavilla, then to the Sambiase, then Raymond Orsini of the Balzo and then the Dentice Frasso. From the 15th century onwards, the city began to widen, extending north and east. In 1484 it was sacked by the Venetians. In 1571, during the Crusades, a handful of Sanvitesi took part in the Battle of Lepanto against the Ottoman Empire. In honor of the victory won, they built the Basilca Santa Maria della Vittoria and then dedicated it to the Madonna della Vittoria. In 1799 it joined the Neapolitan Republic; the population during the 19th century the city was the seat of various participating circles to the Carbonari.
During the Fascist period it experienced remarkable urban development. There were many important buildings built such as The Circle Elementary School, the seat of the Municipality, and the post office. In 1927, the province of Brindisi was established which includes San VitoI. In 1943, it hosted King Victor Emmanuel III which was trying to escape to liberation, with Marshal Pietro Badoglio’s government. In the early 1960s, the petrochemical industry in addition to engineering companies and Aeronavali of Brindisi San Vito have moved many workers from working the fields to the assembly line. The opening of the San Vito dei Normanni Air Station into a strategic focal point during the Cold War, simultaneously created the work between the locals and received thousands of American workers. It closed after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Culture and sights
Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, simply called the “Mother Church”, is the most important religious building in the city. The largest church in the city shows evidence of previous wars from the fist-sized holes that can be seen in and around the exterior. Built in the shape of a Latin cross with three naves, a transept and a deep chancel. Inside valuable paintings such as the icon of Nicopeia, depicting the Virgin Mary, announcing to Pope Pius V the victory over the Turks, and a silver statue representing San Vito. On the right side of the basilica there is the Holy Door, opened in October 1995 during celebrations for the fourth centenary of the church, beginning at the Holy Year Jubilee of the Church. Also the occasion was marked by the presentation of a new wooden altar, together all the furnishings of the sanctuary, of Flavio Pancheri. On October 26, 1996, Pope John Paul II, during a special audience called on the Archdiocese of Brindisi-Ostuni, and solemnly crowned the icon of Our Lady Nicopeia. The pope proclaimed the church a papal Basilica on December 30, 1998.
Church of San Giovanni Evangelista presents the Baroque style. The façade, enlivened by four pilasters with Corinthian capitals are in Lecce stone, which is very soft, allowing for striking decorations. In the church there are six paintings, two of which placed in a wooden structure which includes frame and canopy, the other four are on the sidewalls. The church, was “sold” by the Dentice Frasso family of the symbolic sum of 10,000 lira to the City of San Vito.
Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angeli – The “Old Church” was built around the 15th century. Subsequent modifications took place in 1696 and 1763. It has a simple façade, marked by six pilasters with an elegant portal and an oval window with projecting cornices. In its interior are side altars of stone, an altar in polychrome marble, a wood crucifix from the 16th century and an 1809 painting made by Domenico Carella.
Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie – The “Monastery” is so named because until 1868, it was next to the convent of the Franciscan Friars Minor. It was built in 1586, at the behest of Prince Palagano Lucius II, with a single aisle. Then, with a subsequent action in 1700, it was added a second, and in 1898 a third. The façade is very simple, and has only two windows in the portal and central. In the interior, there are nine altars in the side stones and paintings depicting the Crucifixion. Moreover, in the aisles, there is the Pietà by an unknown author, the Providence and San Salvador from Orte by local artist Giacomo da San Vito.
There are many rock art sites within San Vito made by Byzantine monks that fled from eastern Europe as they were persecuted because of their faith. Such sites include:
- San Biagio which is located near the Jannuzzo farm, is a monastic Byzantine sanctuary placed in real rock. The Orthodoxrite is drawn inside a cave. It also presents the cells intended for monks, but over time has undergone significant transformations. Like all churches carved out along the last stretch of the Via Francigena, the sanctuary of San Biagio presents votive frescoes dedicated to Saint Blaise, St. Nicholas, St. Andrew, St. George, St. James and St. John. The inscriptions on the iconography, are all in Greek except one, that of St. Nicholas, which sets in Latin as a sign of religious unity between the Orthodox Church and the Latin Church.
- St. Nicholas in the San Nicola-Malpasso, is located halfway between San Vito and Serranova. The crypt and the four adjoining caves are located in a small valley, partly carved in rock, partly built in tuff. Inside is the image of St. Nicholas and traces of frescoes can be seen in the walls of tufa.
- Crypt of San Giovanni is a settlement with several rock caves, some partially collapsed, in which two small cells were found with traces of graffiti. Another, almost completely underground, is divided into seven side branches that converge into a central corridor. The crypt presents a pillar around which rests three arcs. Parts of frescoes, dating back presumably to the 13th century, are in the central apse.
- Crypt of St Mary the hamlet of St. James is situated in an old farmhouse, which was abandoned in the 15th century. Inside the church has a fresco of the Virgin with Child.
Rezza (from Retia in Latin, meaning network), is a sort of tent located in front of the door of almost every home to protect itself from not only the strong rays of the sun, but by winter storms. The “safety” is composed of thin plates of wood placed horizontally and parallel to each other, leaving only a few millimeters of space. The shade, may be of different colors: purple, green, yellow, brown and beige. San Vito tradition uses the term “Vecchia cretu la rezza” (older woman behind the safety) to express the wish to see, indeed spying, without being seen.
In the 1990s, just outside the town, specifically in Contrada Castello d’Alceste, were found traces of buildings dating back to Iron Age and, following excavations, a large Messapii settlement presumably dating from the period between the seventh and 4th centuries BC. That site could become the first Archeodromo of Italy. The archaeological site was the subject of several excavations made by the City Council of San Vito dei Normanni, the Archaeological Superintendence of Taranto and the University of Salento’s Department of Cultural Heritage.
Castle of Dentice Frasso
The Medieval Castle of Dentice Frasso, opposite the Town Hall with its ancient square tower, overlooks the main town’s piazza. The original access was via a drawbridge which was from the box located on the door of the Chapel The first building was undoubtedly the tower, believed to be Norman and dating from the 12th century. Built by Bohemond of Hauteville in the 11th century, in a strategic position on the road that passed through the hamlet of San Vito and came to the old road for Oria. It is perfectly intact, still dominates the area of San Vito. The tower has Guelphs and Ghibellines-like battlements and narrow openings that allows indoor lighting. There is a large courtyard that overlooks the cinquecentoresidence, characterized by a series of elegant rectangular boxes around the tower. The castle was probably built originally as the residence of hunters, as once the territory of San Vito completely covered by forests. The entrance to the building consists of a pointed arch, on top is placed a crest of the Dentice family. The stairway leads to a stone porch column, on which rest three round arches. Inside retains decorated suites, paintings, hunting trophies and the town archive. The castle is privately owned and inhabited by descendants of the Dentice Frasso family.
The Rural Museum implemented by local action group Altosalento, was inaugurated on July 21, 2001 and is currently managed by the Cultural Association AXAS Onlus. The museum, like the town library, is located within the cloister of the Dominicans. The museum houses a remarkable collection of objects and tools that bear witness to everyday rural life between the 18th century and the early 1950s. The tools cover artisans, blacksmiths, carpenters, saddlers, knife grinders, shoemakers and of course farmers.
Castello d’Alceste Museum
In the Contrada Castello d’Alceste were found traces of a village huts in the second half of the 8th century BC. It overlaps the 6th century BC buildings, reflecting the surge of new construction techniques and a new way to conceive of living space. The houses of this period are divided into multiple environments and have complex roof systems that make use of tiles.