The wonders of Santa Maria di Leuca: what to see in De Finibus Terrae
Santa Maria di Leuca, here is the most extreme point of the Salento peninsula. That strip of land bathed by the two seas, the Ionian and the Adriatic, where everything ends. Or begins. It depends on which perspective you explore it from, whether from the lighthouse – with the view that opens to the horizon – or from the sea during a boat trip, with the eyes that are seduced by the shades of colours given by the interweaving between sea and land.
One thing is certain: from any point of view, Santa Maria di Leuca remains one of the most beautiful places in the southern Salento to visit. A must for those who want to reconnect with the beauty of nature and the timeless charm of history.
The name Leuca comes from the Greek “leukós”, white, but it is not given to know with certainty if it is for the effect of the sun that illuminated it in the early morning or for the foam of the sea that, banging continuously on the coasts, left behind that whiteness. Meanwhile, the name Santa Maria has a religious connotation: it seems that Saint Peter landed on the coast of Leuca and wanted to dedicate to Our Lady the town from which began his work of evangelization of Europe.
Well, what are the most suggestive places to visit in Santa Maria di Leuca?
From the caves to the 19th-century villas in liberty style, from the lighthouse that watches over the promontories of Punta Ristola and Punta Meliso to the Basilica Santuario Santa Maria De Finibus Terrae. Santa Maria di Leuca has so much to show to those who enjoy a walk through it.
What to see in Santa Maria di Leuca: the caves
They are set like diamonds along the coast and many of them are only reachable from the sea. Enjoy a boat trip in Salento. The caves are a must for those who visit Salento and Leuca, for their historical, natural and landscape value.
Two are the main routes that are proposed during the excursions: one turns to Levante, on the Adriatic side where there are the caves Grotta del Soffio, Grotta degli Indiani and the fabulous inlet of Ciolo; the other one turns to Ponente, on the Ionian side, where there are the famous caves Grotta delle Tre Porte, Porcinara and Grotta del Presepe… just to name a few.
A sight not to be missed, for the natural play of light that the sun gives in contact with the water and the rocky walls and the numerous legends related to these places.
What to see in Santa Maria di Leuca: the 19th-century villas
Santa Maria di Leuca was born as a fishing village, until the end of the nineteenth century, when ancient noble families began to build their villas in the most panoramic points of the city to enjoy the beauty of the sea during their holidays.
There are about 40 villas, some of which are particularly sumptuous, all built following different styles and that make Leuca an open-air exhibition. It is not possible to visit them all, but many are accessible during the event “Ville in Festa”.
Among the most famous villas there are Villa Romasi – the oldest and most characteristic one with its red Pompeian and white details – Villa Daniele for the shape that recalls that of a ship and Villa Ruggeri also known as “la Meridiana” for the clock on the facade.
What to see in Santa Maria di Leuca: the lighthouse
White and octagonal, with its 47 meters, the lighthouse of Santa Maria di Leuca is the second highest lighthouse in Europe and one of the most beautiful in Italy. In 1864 it replaced an old coastal tower that overlooked the promontory of Punta Meliso (the Torre Nuova commissioned by Philip II) and is still the reference point of sailors who see the coast of Salento.
If you want to enjoy a breathtaking view, among the things to see in Santa Maria di Leuca, you have to include a visit to the lighthouse. Watch out, the entrance to the lighthouse is not guaranteed and we recommend you to get in touch with the Pro Loco. With permission obtained, only 254 steps of a spiral staircase will separate you from a view that will leave you breathless.
What to see in Santa Maria di Leuca: the Sanctuary De Finibus Terrae and the monumental staircase
The Basilica Santuario “Santa Maria De Finibus Terrae” is another of the unmissable places to visit in your itinerary to discover Leuca.
The origins of this symbol of Christianity in Salento are uncertain and intertwine legendary stories and faith. From an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva to the passage of the Apostle Peter who built a new church, to the miracle of Our Lady who saved a group of fishermen from the stormy sea. What we admire today is the result of the most recent reconstruction, which took place in 1700.
A stone’s throw from the Basilica there is the monumental staircase – with waterfall – that connects the promontory to the port. It is said that if you try to count the steps you can never have the same number between ascent and descent. Well, is it an experience to try?