“A hilly ridge of tufa extends from east to west, between Alezio and Gallipoli, and it is a spur extending into the sea, the matrix from which came off, because of tide and bradyseism, both the rock where Gallipoli is built, and the other rocks forming a circle around it. […].
While on the high spine of the aforesaid hilly ridge (with the toponym of “Daliano”) runs straight the modern road connecting Alezio (Aletium) with Gallipoli (Callipolis), two ancient roads link them at the bottom of the northern and southern slopes. These two roads are now called “Scalelle” (north) and “Croce della Lizza” (south) and in the past millennia they contributed to join the Hellenic Callipolis to the Salentinian road system”.
These are words by the historian Ettore Vernole who, in 1938, synthetically described the still existing road system, which connected Gallipoli to the inland, framing the position of the city in the geomorphologic context of the territory.
Large part of it today belongs to Gallipoli from an administrative point of view, but it still keeps traces of the history of work and life of the surrounding villages.
This is the case of the area that the scholar names with the toponym of Daliano, today called Santa Maria delle Grazie because of the church standing there, which has now become the symbol of the devotion of the quarriers who worked and still work here.
In its present shape the church dates back to the 16th century but, in its plant and in the surviving fresco of Madonna and Child, it preserves traces of the Greek rite in use at the time of its probable builders, the Basilian monks. These monks, escaped from the East at the time of the iconoclastic persecutions by Leone III the Isauric, found here (as well as in the other Karst areas of Salento) a safe refuge, thanks to the numerous pre-existing caves. Later they organized the territory economically, giving new impulse to agriculture and being an important point of reference for the people living there.
The mining activity in the area probably dates back to the Bronze Age: the carparo (calcarenitic stone of sedimentary origin) was already used by the Messapi for the construction of defensive and funeral works. In the Baroque period, besides the construction purposes, it was widely used as a substitute of the Lecce stone to create decorative elements, as we can see, for example, in the Cathedral of Sant’Agata in Gallipoli and in many other churches in the area. The extraction of the carparo was an almost exclusive prerogative of Aletine people, so as to be called “Alezio stone”.
This heavily anthropized countryside has been receptacle of undifferentiated waste for decades and only some volunteers’ commitment has saved it from a fate of dump.
Today, hand in hand with the reclamation progress, the quarries are returning to their original function and the cavities resulting from the extraction offer a formidable setting for events and visits by pilgrims and tourists. It is an unmissable stop for spring naturalistic excursions and for trekking and photography lovers.
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