When we talk about visiting Gallipoli (from the Greek for beautiful city), most people initially think about the Dardanelles campaign of World War I. But those heroic and tragic incidents were in Turkey: Gallipoli in Salento, Puglia, has happier stories to tell. On the Ionian coast of the Salento region of Puglia, the old town of Gallipoli is in fact an island, linked to the mainland by a 16th century bridge. For the wandering tourist it is a tiny land of fishermen and boats, seafood restaurants, picturesque alleyways and buildings, and a crazy number of churches. Various dukes and counts over the past six centuries set out to prove their power, wealth and faith by building a bigger, better church right next door to that of their predecessor. The island is surrounded by clear turquoise waters and there is even a sandy beach with calm waters to enjoy while you devour your post-lunch gelato. There is something for everyone to worship.
If you can tear yourself away from the sea views, in the centre of the old town there is a museum in a well restored ancient olive mill, dug into the rock below street level. A multi-lingual audio tape shares the history of Gallipoli’s wealth, based on a massive trade in olive oil, in the days when its primary use was as lamp oil, as well as for soap making and for food. The Salento oil was recognised as a superior product. For example Russians insisted on the pale oil produced, refusing to insult the Madonna by burning inferior votives in their shrines. The value of oil was such that by 1914, the price for a litre of oil was £1.50 (€1.80), the same as the average days labour. In the peak of production workers would live in the mill for months on end, with the working donkeys for company.
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