Caves of Castellana

Where is Castellana Grotte?

Located on the limestone plateau of the Terra dei Trulli e delle Grotte, it is known above all for the karst complex of the Castellana Caves. The municipal territory of Castellana Grotte has an administrative island (“hamlet”) in the municipality of Alberobello and another between Alberobello and Monopoli.

Other towns to visit within 20 kilometers of Castellana Grotte
Putignano at 5.34 km
Conversano at 9.84 km
Noci at 11.0 km
Turi at 12.6 km
Alberobello at 12.6 km
Polignano a Mare at 12.8 km
Monopoli at 12.9 km
Fasano at 17.2 km
Sammichele di Bari at 18.3 km
Rutigliano at 19.3 km

The history of Castellana Grotte:

Stained glass in church of castellana grotte

Castellana was born in the early Middle Ages thanks to the colonization carried out by the Monastery of San Benedetto di Conversano in the 10th century, precisely in 901. This is evidenced by a parchment that refers to the deed of sale of Ermenefrido, son of Ermuzio, and his wife Trasisperga in favor of Ianniperto. The document speaks of a Castellano Vetere and a Castellano Novo. In 1098, Count Goffredo di Conversano, of Norman origins, donated the whole territory to San Benedetto and allowed the abbot to gather people there to populate it.

Its official foundation is traced back to December 1171, when the Abbot Eustasio donated the feud of Castellano with good vassalage conditions to two Otranto, Nicola and Costa, in an attempt to repopulate the agglomeration of existing houses, many of which were destroyed. during the disputes between Roger II of Sicily and the Norman dynasts, to enjoy the income again.

The reconstructed vicus village soon became a universitas and, in this period, the presumed visit of Frederick II of Swabia and his one night stop under the now non-existent Elm of Porta Grande is placed. During the Swabian domination, the Conversano monastery of San Benedetto was abandoned, and in 1226 Pope Clement IV granted the Convent of Conversano to a group of Cistercian nuns who had fled from Morea, a region of central Greece. They are assigned all the properties of the ancient abbey, including Castellana, and the ecclesiastical jurisdiction: that is, the ordinary power over the clergy and people of Castellana plus the right to challenge the pastoral and gird the miter.

In the early years of the fifteenth century, Castellana tried to free herself from the feudal dependencies of the County of Conversano and from the abbess of the Benedictine monastery of Conversano to whom she paid tithes. Taking advantage of the struggle that raged the house of Anjou for the throne of the Kingdom of Naples, in 1407 three hundred young Castellanesi, led by the valiant Ottavio da Castellana, sided with King Ladislao of Anjou at the siege of Taranto against Maria d ‘Enghien, sister of the abbess and widow of Prince Raimondo Orsini Del Balzo. Admired for their proofs of prowess, the Castellanesi fighters went down in the news like the Lions of Fortezza. Having obtained the victory with the surrender of Maria d’Enghien, with following her resolver marriage with King Ladislao of Anjou, Castellana obtained the promised privilege.

castellana caves with lake

After the death of Ladislao, in 1426, Queen Giovanna II of Naples appointed the Abruzzese nobleman Giacomo Caldora as Duke of Bari, who obtained, among others, the territory of Castellana. The Caldoras had power until 1440 when Antonio Caldora, Giacomo’s eldest son and his successor to the title of Duke of Bari, was ousted by the viceduca Marino Reguardati da Norcia, who offered the entire duchy, together with Castellana, to Giovanni Antonio Orsini of Balzo, prince of Taranto and son of Maria d’Enghien by her first husband.

In 1456, Castellana and the entire county of Conversano (including also the centers of Casamassima, Castiglione, Noci and Turi) constituted the dowry of Caterina, daughter of Giovanni Antonio Orsini Del Balzo, married to the Duke of Atri Giulio Antonio Acquaviva . The Acquaviva, who held the feudal rights until their abolition in 1806, were more humane feudal lords towards the people, enabling the settlers to become small owners who transformed the territory, growing grapes and wheat and drawing significant economic benefits.

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What to see in Castellana Grotte?

serious view from inside the castellana caves

The Castellana Caves, a complex of underground caves of karst origin, of considerable tourist interest, among the most beautiful and spectacular in Italy, are located in the municipality of Castellana-Grotte, about 1.5 km from the town.

They develop for a length of 3348 meters and reach a maximum depth of 122 meters from the surface. The indoor temperature is around 16.5 ° C.

Located at the gates of the Itria Valley, a few kilometers from enchanting villages such as Alberobello, Cisternino, Polignano a Mare, the Castellana Caves open into the south-eastern Murge at 330 m a.s.l. on the limestone plateau formed in the upper Cretaceous, about ninety-one hundred million years ago.
The beauty of the Castellana Caves attracts visitors from all over the world, and since their opening to the public, more than 15 million people have walked its underground streets. The visit to the Caves winds along a 3 km route: an extraordinary guided excursion, about 70 meters deep, in an amazing setting, where caves with fantastic names, canyons, deep abysses, fossils, stalactites, stalagmites, concretions with shapes incredible and with surprising colors stimulate the imagination of children and adults.

The mouth of the Grave, the deep chasm at the entrance to the caves, has always aroused a sense of anguish and fear in those who traveled the nearby country road, especially at dusk, when it could happen that they came out of the abyss. , together with the bats that fluttered in the fields hunting for insects, vapors, considered by superstitious travelers to be the souls of suicides, who, having found their death in the Grave, tried in vain to ascend to heaven.

route of the castellana caves

The discovery

Vincenzo Longo (1737-1825), humanist and jurist from Castellana, was perhaps the first man to go down to the Grave together with a large group of young peers.

The memory of the enterprise, enriched by many and different details, was perpetuated in the memory of the witnesses of the time and from these it was handed down to subsequent generations.

The Castellana Caves are therefore, in their own right, an unmissable opportunity to admire one of the most surprising natural places in a marvelous Puglia.

The unsolved mysteries

La Grave is far from having revealed all its secrets. A depression at the base of the north wall of the cave, discovered following the cleaning of the abyss of the Grave, suggests that there may be new corners to discover and new cavities to explore.

In addition, on-site excursions and surface geophysical research conducted in past years with various survey techniques, have allowed us to hypothesize the existence of new branches, which would branch off from the initial chasm.

flooded castellana cave

Church of Pope San Leone I Magno co-patron
Named after St. Leo the Great as per the epigraph on the façade, it was built in 1383 by expanding an existing Romanesque church to which a Norman defensive tower was annexed, then converted into a bell tower. On the sides of the main facade you can admire the statues of Leo the Great and John the Baptist, hitherto placed internally on the main altar, while on the pediment there is the sculpture of the Madonna Consolatrice. The interior, divided into three large naves, is embellished with arches and a fresco discovered and recently restored (1970) in a late Gothic style, sculptures by Aurelio Persio and valuable canvases by Andrea Miglionico and Vincenzo Fato from the castle. The wall in front of the main altar is dominated by a majestic organ. Noteworthy is the presence of the chapel dedicated to Corpus Domini where in the frontal of the altar you can admire a refined image of the Madonna and Child.

Sanctuary of Maria SS. of Vetrana
It stands on one of the five hills of Castellana at 317 m a.s.l. Originally there was a small church, already documented in the 13th and 14th centuries, dedicated to Santa Maria Veterana. It was built in 1691 by the will of the Castellanese people as thanks to the Madonna della Vetrana, who had freed the town from the terrible plague of 1690. The Alcantarini Friars settled there in 1714. According to historical evidence, these friars went to the church of the Santi Medici in Alberobello. The interior of the church, in the shape of a Latin cross with a barrel vault, is enriched with fine stuccoes while, in the transept, four stone pillars with capitals support the dome. In the transept there are two Baroque altars with decorated stuccoes. To the left of the main altar is the image of the Madonna della Vetrana in a small chapel, in front of which an oil lamp has been burning for more than three centuries. The cloister is of simple structure, formed by arches in the round and which leads to a permanent nativity scene built in 1968. The convent has a rich library of ancient volumes of history, philosophy and theology. Inside the church there are the statues of: Saint Pasquale Baylon, Saint Peter of Alcàntara, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Saint Anthony of Padua, and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.

Church of San Francesco d’Assisi
Built on a pre-existing 14th century church dedicated to Santa Maria Annunziata, the church was built in 1651, annexed to the convent (now used as a Town Hall) of the Conventual Friars, already settled since 1418. In the single Latin cross nave, presented with a harmonious set in bare stone and lime plaster, in the late Renaissance style, there are seven grandiose altars in local stone, the work of Fra ‘Luca Principino, a Conventual friar in Castellana. The external facade, in ashlar stone, is of a sober Baroque.

Church of the Caroseno
Church built extra moenia on the road to Putignano, it dates back to the sixteenth century, as attested by notarial documents. The external front facade, given in Baroque style in the eighteenth century, is divided into three parts by pilasters, divided into two orders. On the lower sides there are two niches with statues of St. Peter and St. John the Baptist respectively. In the upper order, with a tympanated window, there are figures of angels and the statue of the Madonna on the throne. The interior of the church retains the original aspect of the sixteenth century, characterized by a single nave with pointed arches. Noteworthy is the presence of the painting of the Madonna del Caroseno and of paintings by the Castellanese painter Vincenzo Fato.

Church of Santa Maria del Suffragio (Purgatory)
Eighteenth-century, it houses valuable works. Sober decorations also cover the nineteenth-century wooden confessional placed under the first arch on the left. The dome covering the roof is very impressive.

Church of San Nicola di Genna
In the hamlet called Genna (whose name appears for the first time in a document of 944) there is the church of San Nicola. This country church, which rises 365 m a.s.l., just over 2 km from the city and a few meters from the Genna hill from which it takes its name, is located at the meeting of seven roads. It was built in the sixteenth century, when the area was inhabited and covered with vineyards with the church in the center.

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What to eat in Castellana Grotte? Where to eat in Castellana Grotte?

The breadcrumbs of Castellana Grotte

breaded with castellana grotte

The current recipe for breadcrumbs is actually a reinterpretation of the much more famous incapriata with chicory and broad beans, a dish that according to some represents the very first dish cooked by man to make foods available in nature more edible and digestible.

Despite the apparent poor and not very sought after aspect of the recipe, if we focus on the foods used to make the dish, we can say with full certainty that the choice and combination of the main ingredients is not a vulgar mixture of food substances made without no criteria; on the contrary, it contains all the organic and inorganic food principles, such as proteins, glycides, lipids, mineral salts and vitamins.

In this case, therefore, the foods used complement each other to give life to a complete dish that is sure to benefit the body of the final consumer.

In Castellana Grotte we pay homage to one of the most characteristic dishes of the locality of the Itria Valley, with the Sagra dell’Impanata, already anticipated in the past months by a cultural and gastronomic walk. Organized by the Castellana Conveni – Confesercenti association, with the patronage of the Municipality of Castellana Grotte, of Grotte Srl of Castellana Grotte, of the City of Oil, of the Puglia Region – Tourism and Cultural Industry Department for the management and enhancement of cultural heritage and of the City of Bari and many others and with the recognition of the municipal denomination of origin DE.CO of the Municipality of Castellana Grotte, the event pays homage to the breaded, typical dish of the place.

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What to do in Castellana Grotte?

The “Fanòve”
The “Festa delle Fanòve” is a religious event rooted in the Castellanese popular tradition. The lighting of the characteristic bonfires takes place on 11 January. The Fanòve are large piles of wood that are burned throughout the town during the night. The feast is the recognition of the Madonna della Vetrana who, according to tradition, put an end to the epidemic of 1691. Visitors are happy to taste the typical products offered by those who set up the “fanòva”, such as taralli, chickpeas and roasted broad beans, usually accompanied by a glass of wine. The next day, January 12, the statue of the Madonna della Vetrana is carried, with a solemn procession, from the convent of the Friars Minor in the city, to the mother church of San Leone Magno, remaining there for a week in front of the grateful veneration of the numerous faithful who they visit it. The Festa delle Fanòve is preceded by the Diana, a procession that starts from Piazza Nicola e Costa at three in the morning. The faithful who participate are accompanied by the local City Band that performs an ancient popular dirge. The purpose of the procession is to carry out the traditional begging by going around the oil mills of the area, to collect the oil with which to feed, for the rest of the year, the votive lamp placed at the foot of the sacred effigy of the Madonna della Vetrana.

The April Feast
The solemn main festival takes place on the last weekend of April between lights, processions, concerts by various bands and fireworks in honor of the Madonna della Vetrana. On the main day, the last Sunday of April, at 12:00 a procession is held with statues of the saints and the Madonna della Vetrana.

The Consoler
Particularly simple and intimate party, which marks the end of the holidays, on August 21st. With solemn processions the Madonna Maria SS. Comforter and San Leone Magno, ancient patrons of Castellana now co-patrons.

Caroseno Festival and Chicken and Rabbit Festival
Since 1692, the Madonna del Caroseno is celebrated, paying homage to the Caroseno of Mary which highlights the role of the virgin as mother of the people. A festival that is also deeply felt by the surrounding area, on 7 and 8 September it is enriched with the Chicken and Rabbit Festival, in which characteristic satirical showcases and large tables set up in the streets with the town’s butchers are set up.

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Where to sleep in Castellana Grotte?

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Why visit Castellana Grotte?

The Castellana Caves are considered the most important speleological complex in Italy and Europe, they are located about 40 kilometers from Bari, in Puglia and are the result of the erosive action of an ancient underground river, which has shaped the limestone rock .

For this reason, inside the caves of Castellana you get lost in natural tunnels that wind in two paths. The cavity was discovered in 1938 by the speleologist Franco Anelli who looked out into the Grave for the first time, on 23 January.

“Descending to the bottom of the cavity, the explorer walked around its perimeter and found a low passage, which continued for a few tens of meters until reaching a second huge cave that the light of the acetylene lamp was unable to illuminate *, later called Cave of Monuments “.

After a couple of days, Anelli accompanied by a Castellanese worker, Vito Matarrese continued his exploration, slowly discovering what today are the Corridor of the Serpent, the Desert and the White Cave.

Among stalactites and stalagmites there are also the Cavern of the Altar, the Cavern of the Dome and the Passage of the Presepio, where lies a stalagmite with Marian features, called Madonnina delle Grotte.

Next to the Castellana Caves, there is also the ‘Franco Anelli’ Speleological Museum which for years has hosted tourists and students for guided tours, educational workshops and speleo tourist visits. Another gem is the Speleonight, or the visit of the Castellana Caves in the dark, which takes place after closing to the public, for groups of at least 15 people.

The temperature inside the Castellana caves is cool so it is advisable to bring a sweater and, in general, comfortable clothing. During the night visit, visitors are guided by the guides of the Puglia Grotte Group equipped with helmet, canister and acetylene lighting: this serves to show along the walk, the colors, sensations and emotions experienced by the first explorers.

“The expert speleological guides guide the participants on a unique excursion, during which you can listen to the sounds of the caves and see and observe the fauna that populates them, or experience intense emotions like proceeding alone for a while”.


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