Rocky Coast Santa Maria di Leuca Puglia.

Santa Maria di Leuca – the tip of Italy’s heel

August 10, 2022 By Bellarome Travel

Santa Maria di Leuca holds the title of the most southern point of Italy. A famous tourist resort area, it is positioned right at the tip of the heel. Located in the province of Lecce in southern Salento, it only has 1200 inhabitants.

Santa Maria di Leuca is the area directly above the promontory. It is here where the famed Basilica and the lighthouse are located. Marina di Leuca is located further south and lies between Punta Mèliso in the east and Punta Ristola in the west.

It is here that under certain conditions due to the meeting of currents the sea forms two different colours of blue. It has always suggested a physical border between the two seas, in the imagination at least.

Since October 2006, the territory of Santa Maria di Leuca is part of the Costa Otranto. Santa Maria di Leuca and Bosco di Tricase Park were established by the Puglia Region. This was in order to safeguard the valuable architectural assets and important animal species and plant.

Just outside Punta Ristola, 85m below sea level, lies the hull of the Italian oceanic submarine Pietro Micca. It was sunk during the Second World War with her crew of 58 sailors.

A famous legend tells that Santa Maria di Leuca would have been the first landing of Aeneas. Subsequently, Saint Peter would have landed here, who began his work of evangelization onwards to Rome.  A staircase of 296 steps connects the Basilica to the underlying port. It frames the monumental waterfall of the Apulian Aqueduct which flows into the sea.

Santa Maria di Leuca city Salento Puglia.

Sanctuary Basilica of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae

The Sanctuary Basilica of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae is a minor basilica. It is a sanctuary of Castrignano del Capo, located in the hamlet of Santa Maria di Leuca. It is so called because it is located at the southeastern end of the Italian peninsula – another must see in the area.

The Sanctuary has very ancient origins. It was born in the early days of Christianity on a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva. On entering the church, it is possible to see the ancient altar on which sacrifices were offered.

Tradition has it that St. Peter landed on the Cape of Leuca, and that he himself consecrated the sanctuary.

In the chapel, there is also a triptych depicting the Crucifixion with Saint Peter and Saint Paul. This work is by Francesco Saverio Mercaldi. There’s also a wooden nativity scene and small shrines with scenes from the Via Crucis. These are both by Zaccaria Bros, a reliquary with the remains of Saint Alexander Sauli. There is a wooden statue of the Madonna too from the 18th century. You’ll also find small ivory objects, certified scrolls and relics.

Pilgrimage Church Santa Maria di Leuca Puglia.

The monumental waterfall of Santa Maria di Leuca

There are many beauties present in Santa Maria di Leuca including the spectacular Monumental Waterfall. It is an impressive work nestled between rock and Mediterranean scrub. You can find it at the southernmost point of the province. It is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Italy.

The Monumental Waterfall is over 100 years old and is a symbol of Puglia. The surrounding area consists of white cliffs, caves, and picturesque nineteenth-century villas.

The Monumental Waterfall complements another major work, the Apulian Aqueduct. Mussolini chose its imposing and monumental style so that the work celebrated the economic and social efforts.

The water that flows into the fountain is flanked by two flights of stairs. Each of these boasts three hundred steps! They start from the Japigio promontory and lead down to the port of Santa Maria di Leuca. The difference in height is one hundred and twenty meters. The flow rate is a whopping one thousand liters per second!

On the top, near the Sanctuary and Basilica there is an ancient monolithic Roman column. Starting the descent through the staircase, a natural setting opens before the eyes. It truly is a view capable of flooding us with a sense of grandeur and wonder. At the foot of the staircase there is a semicircular belvedere, which turns pink and orange during sunset. A perfect setting for the most beautiful photos of your time in Italy.

Explore the Lighthouse

Another attraction of Santa Maria di Leuca is its Lighthouse. Placed a few steps away from the square of the Basilica, the Lighthouse di Leuca overlooks the small town. Here you have the opportunity to admire a fantastic panorama. It is and historically was the reference point of sailors who sail the Mediterranean, approaching the Salento coasts.

The height of the 60m high lighthouse is added to that of the elevated territory on which it rests – over 100m above sea level. Once you climb the circular terrace of the lighthouse, the landscape you can see is majestic:. It’s an unlimited view of the sea, interrupted only by the horizon line and the play of light created by the sun. Here tourists will find an immense sense of peace and admiration for nature. If you are particularly lucky, on a clear day you can see the Greek coasts. Maybe even the Acrocerauni Mountains on the border between Albania and Greece.

The lighthouse represents one of the two extremes of the Gulf of Taranto. In addition to the suggestive and naturalistic aspect, the tower represents an important geographical point for the Mediterranean area.

Inside the tower, there is a long staircase with 254 steps which allows the ascent to the cage of the projection apparatus.

The lantern emits a beam of visible light up to 50km away. It has a diameter of 3m and has 16 lenses which allow both white and red light signals. These provide the right information to sailors, including the presence of dangerous shoals present in the sea of ​​Ugento.

The lighthouse gives off 3 beams of light every 15 seconds and is active from sunset until dawn.

white lighthouse of Santa Maria di Leuca

Cave exploring for tourists

To make Santa Maria di Leuca even more interesting is the presence of numerous karst caves. There’s about thirty in total to which local imagination has attributed names for each. To admire their beauty and the variety of colors that the waters assume, it is preferable to visit the caves in the east in morning light and those in west in the afternoon.. This is because the effect of light refractions is much more intense and suggestive.

  • Devil’s Grotto is always located on Punta Ristola at about 150m from the Porcinara cave. It is accessible both from the sea and from land through an opening about 4m high and 2m wide.
  • Cave of Giants is linked to the legend that the corpses of giants killed by Hercules were buried there. Its name derives from the presence of bones and teeth of pachyderms. Even if you access by sea to visit it, you need to get off the boat. From the paleontological and archaeological point of view, it is one of the most interesting caves. Studies show the presence of deposits of Mousterian industry.
  • Grotta del Presepe owes its name to the similarities to the biblical scenario. It is thanks to a series of low arches that it is only accessible when the sea is calm.

Grotta di Castellana

Views galore for memorable Italian photos

Between the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea stands the promontory of Punta Meliso. It is the meeting point between the two seas. From a landscape point of view, Punta Meliso offers splendid views of the sea. The location is particularly interesting for the important archaeological finds found in the area too.

These are the remains of an ancient, fortified village dating back to the fourteenth century BC. These people found their way to the east by crossing the sea and chose the Apulian territory as a place to settle and found new villages.

Torre dell’Omomorto (Dead Man Tower) is a watchtower on the Salento coast near Santa Maria di Leuca.

It is one of the hundreds of towers throughout the Salento coast. As well as defensive elements, once upon a time these towers can spot the approach of Saracen ships. For a long-time these invaded Otranto and the other municipalities of the Salento peninsula.

The Dead Man tower is located near the Cristoforo Colombo promenade. The denomination “Dead Man” is due to some human bones found in an existing cave near the tower.

The tower has internal and external wall facing in square blocks of stone called carparo bedded with lime mortar. Inside it consists of limestone stones embedded in clay and lime mortar.

Rocky coast Santa Maria Di Leuca Puglia.

Ciolo Bridge

A few kilometers away from Santa Maria di Leuca, Ciolo is a seaside resort that is accessible by following the Adriatic coast. The particular name is due to the dialectal term ‘Ciola’, which means magpie thief. The bridge that characterizes this stretch of coast, Ciolo Bridge, overlooks the cliff by joining two overhangs that create a deep ravine.

It is an important work of engineering, which allows tourists to enjoy a fantastic panorama. It consists of the high and wild cliffs, the Mediterranean scrub, the sea that stretches endlessly. Driving along the coast road it is impossible to resist the temptation to stop and admire how much nature is around. And then there are the dives, as spectacular as they are dangerous, but certainly an extra attraction for those who stop to admire.

On one of the two sides of the bridge there is a staircase which allows the descent to the sea. It leads to an inlet, created over time by the incessant and constant action of the wind and the sea.

Here, from a pebbly beach, you can immerse yourself in the waters of Ciolo, living an experience that is difficult to forget. Take it all in – the clear water, the rich and rocky seabed, the surrounding landscape, and finally the large Ciolo cave. It is ‘a marvel worthy of a poet’s pen”, thanks to its particular shape and the colour of its waters.

Classic Puglia can design you a tour around your tastes and preferences. Get in touch with our Puglia travel experts to start planning. Visit our tours page to view our predesigned Puglia itineraries. 

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