Lost in Martina Franca
Martina Franca is one of the big pearls in Puglia’s white town necklace with a maze of narrow streets, baroque cherubs and potbellied balconies.
In the Taranto province Martina Franca is a star. This fairly big town on the edge of the trulli-district has it all in terms of history, architecture, music, spirituality and atmosphere, and it is widely admired for its ability to attract foreign tourists and residents.
What’s in the name
Martina was founded in the 10th century by refugees fleeing from the Arab invasion of Taranto. They named the city after Saint Martin of Tours who is famous for using his sword to cut his cloak in two and share it with a scantily clad beggar.
The legend adorns the facade of several buildings in the old part of town, including of course the basilica. The second part of the name refers to privileges like tax exemption (franchigia) given to certain towns in the middle ages.
Confusing the enemy
Since the middle ages, the historic centre of Martina Franca has been surrounded by a defensive wall with just four gates and 12 square and 12 round watchtowers. Once inside the gates, the streets become narrow and they twist and twirl in a maze of secret alleys and dead ends which in combination with white houses makes it almost impossible to keep your bearings.
The labyrinth was constructed deliberately as an extra protection for the inhabitants, who knew their way around. If the enemy entered the city, the locals could either hide or escape, while their pursuers got more or less lost.
At that time, paving stones were used as a secret code with black stones leading to the gates, while white stones were used for streets inside the labyrinth. While most of the medieval paving slabs have been replaced, you can still find the odd colour coded stone, which is nice to know, unless you want to be trapped in Martina Franca forever.
By the way, the labyrinthine way of thinking does not stop at the old city gates. All of Martina Franca is an almost impenetrable traffic jam and even though we have been there many times over the years, we still find it hard to park the car within walking distance from the centre. So other modes of transportation is absolutely recommended.
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What is the best rout for all small cities in Italy excluding Rome/ Milan/Venice/Florence , please advice which city is better to start by and end my route as well. Thanks
Being Italian & going back every Summer, I find South to North route the best. We start in Naples or Rome arrival (or Bari now) & head north. Southern Italy is a gem – not yet discovered by the Americans, some British…great ancient towns, blue flagged beaches, amazing food & Puglian wines…ssshh, don’t tell!
You’re right. There is a schism between sharing what you love (running the risk that others may spoil it) and keeping it all for yourself. I’ve chosen the risky path:)
Martina Franca is just one pearl on a strand of beautiful towns throughout Puglia. I rented a trulli in Cisternino and used that as a hub to visit Ostuni, Brindisi and many others. A lovely and seemingly untouched area of Italy. Would highly recommend as well.
In my book Cisternino and Ostuni are two of a kind, though Ostuni might be a bit bigger. Still, a visit can absolutely be recommended.
Looks so pretty here. It doesn’t take us much to get lost so here would be a great place for us to wander around…and keep any eye out for the black stones, too, so we could get out at some point! :)
Fortunately, Martina is not the biggest town centre in the world, so we all get out eventually.
Martina Franca – sounds like an Italian film star! Love hearing about places in Puglia – it’s a part of Italy I’ve yet to see. High on my wish list.
You’re right. It could be a proper name. Haven’t though of that before.
Il centro storico e bellissimo. I love Martina. Each time I go to Italy I always go to Valle d’itria and also Salento in my favorite region Puglia. Thanks for the article I enjoyed it.
Thank you for the feedback. As you may have guessed, it is my favourite region too, but of course I’m kind of biased.
Buongiorno. Just a question for any history buff. My greatgrand father called Leonardo Grassi was born in MF in 1856. He then migrated to Agentina, where I was born. His marriage certificate from Argentina stated that he was from Provincia de Lecce. We understand that MF was at some point part of the Provincia de Lecce. Can anyone shed any more light on this?
According the Corriere del Mezzogiorno there were only three provinces in Puglia from 1860 to 1923. These were Foggia, Bari and Lecce. In those days the Lecce province included the present Lecce, Brindisi and Taranto provinces. In 2004 the Bari province was divided, and Barletta, Andria, Trani became a separate administrative entity. Before 1860 the Lecce province was formally known as Terra d’Otranto.