In the shade of ancient olive trees, a land with millennia of history

This strip of land in southern Italy is overlooked by giant olive trees. With their monumental trunks, full of history, they recount the story of mankind.

The people of Arneo will greet you with warmth, hospitality and traditions that date back a long way: for this area has been a melting pot for different cultures and peoples for around 15,000 years. All the conquests, colonizations, vicissitudes and struggles for freedom have made the people of Arneo warm and helpful.

Guests are treated like gods here!

By taking you on fascinating trips through the Terra d’Arneo, this guide will introduce you to an area covering five municipalities: Guagnano, Nardò, Porto Cesareo, Salice Salentino and Veglie, which surround the Ionic arch to the north west of the province of Lecce, and extend as far as the heart of the Salento region. The artistic wealth of this area is in the wide variation of its geo- graphical features and the changing shape and character of the landscape. With the variety of natural vegetation, changing be- tween Mediterranean maquis, and woodland of various species of oak and Aleppo Pine, dunes and canals form a backdrop to the crystalline sea. Inland olive groves and vineyards, farms and dry stone walls, stone monuments, gardens and villas stretch into the horizon.

This area shows the indelible signs of continuous human settlement, explained by the abundance of surface water and the fertility of its soil and its coastal features. Its numerous bays and hollows made it easy for primitive peoples to settle here, and the good landing places welcomed those arriving from other parts of the Mediterranean. Important evidence for this prehistoric settlement process has been found at the Grotta di Uluzzo (Uluzzo Cave) and the Grotta del Cavallo.

Neolithic remains have come to light in the district of Boncore and in the chalk relief at Serra Cicora. There is further evidence of prehistoric settlement in the village on the Strea peninsula, and from the Bronze Age in the “Scalo di Furno” site, where, among other finds, votive statuettes and an area dedicated to the cult of the goddess Thana have come to light.

The historic remains of towns, however, are locked up in their his- toric centres. These usually consist of typical Mediterranean houses, churches and baroque houses facing on to narrow streets filled with odours redolent of ancient traditions.

But where does the word “Arneo” come from? Most experts agree that “Arneo” comes from Arna, a Mediterranean linguistic form meaning “river bed” or “marshes”. The Salice regions of Guagnano and Veglie were once abundant in fertile, marshy areas that enabled people to settle and till the land or rear animals.

Varneo, subsequently changed by everyday usage into Arneo, site of the Pozzo d’Arneo to the north of the St. Chiara farm, famous for its abundant water resources; and also from the Greek word Arnòs, meaning lamb, which stands for an area well known for its sheep farms. This area is well served in many ways: the ancient road from Taranto to Capo di Leuca (also connecting many Messapi settlements) runs along its entire length. It is close to major sea ports like Gallipoli, which has always encouraged trade between the people of Arneo and the civilizations of Arabia and Byzantium, who have left permanent traces in Arneo’s culture and surroundings.

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