Santa Cesarea Terme and the legends of Salento

Santa Cesarea Terme is a town in the Apulia region, which lies on the east coast of the peninsula called Salento, a land rich in history, art and culture. The appearance of the town is characterized by many buildings and villas in the Moorish style, very popular in the 19th century in the seaside resorts of Salento.

Villa Sticchi, an example of Moorish architecture
Villa Sticchi, an example of Moorish architecture

Along the coast of Santa Cesarea Terme there are four marine karst caves, called Fetida, Sulfurea, Gattulla and Solfatara, with sulphurous mineral springs with healing properties. Salento is a land rich in fairy tales and legends. The legend is a medium that the popular tradition uses to explain a mysterious phenomenon that the people can’t understand. There are two legends about the origins of Santa Caesarea. The first legend is pagan, the other one Christian. For centuries the coast of Santa Caesarea was called “Leuterno”. The name comes from the giants called Leuterni. According to Greek mythology, the Giants Leuterni made war to the Gods. They were believed to be invincible because hardened in the fire and in sulfur. Hercules defeated some of them at the Phlegraean Fields (Campi Flegrei), near Naples, but others managed to escape and took refuge in the caves of the Salento coast, where now lies Santa Cesarea. The decay of their bodies, penetrated into the ground, made sulphurous the waters. In Christian times the tale of the giants was replaced by another one. In the fifteenth century, the Lido Leuterno was called Santa Cisaria and then Santa Caesarea. According to popular tradition, Cisaria was a young girl, who ran away from home and hid in the Sulphurous Cave to escape the incestuous father. He joined her in the cave, but he was burned by sudden bursts of sulfur. As often happens, the Christian legend is overlapped the pagan one. According to both the legends, sulfur dissolved in the source it’s due to the dissolution of the body of an evil person. But in the second legend, the waters are purified and sanctified by the young Christian virgin and they become healing waters.

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