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The Salento - a land between two seas

If you tell that the Salento does not mean only sea, that could sound Cioloa banal thing, but it is not since until some years ago the population of the Salento thought  exactly  the contrary. For them, the land where they lived meant above all sweat and work ( nonetheless they liked cultivating it) while the sea was always seen with suspect, so they were frightened by this immense, omnipresent blue universe. That is why the job of the fisherman was  underestimated, probably because men were aware of the dangers of the sea, so they tried to warn  their children against the sea in order to convince them not to become fishermen. This particular relationship with the sea was noticed by a scholar, Calamonico, who in 1917 in his work about the main areas of raininess and density of population in the province of Lecce (published  in "Rivista Geografica Italiana" wrote that most of the inhabited centres lay not near the seaside (as it usually happens) but far from it since the sea was seen as an element of repulsion. Zinzulusa from the inside  That is why  the only wild zones still intact in the Salento are those near the coast, where nothing was cultivated, while in the hinterland, almost all the spaces were used  for agricultural and urban reasons. It is a good thing to specify that the Salento is not poor of spaces and natural environments, on the contrary, there are a lot  of uncontaminated natural spaces and they are  safeguarded. The human impact on the territory has not always been deleterious, because the wonderful  olive-trees (a real green constant of the landscape) and the innumerable constructions in stone, like the classical small walls and the typical "pajare" (from the dialect "paja"= straw, a typical construction, often called "trullo", with circular or square shape, used by the farmers as a shelter, or replacement for their tools) melt with the natural landscape. Walking around in the country it is not rare to see  a stately exemplary of Vallonea oak, a true "witness" of the past , perfectly integrated among the olive-trees ( they are secular too):  in a small grove Menhirnear Tricase there is the oldest known sample of Vallonea oak, 600 years old. If you want to understand thoroughly the characteristics of the flora and of the fauna of the Salento it is necessary to analyse this land form the geographical point of view, to know the climate in order to make out  the distribution of the plants and of the animals on the territory. The Salento  is  around 150 km long: in the Salento there are no mountains, in fact the landscape is rather plain, except for the most southern area where there are the characteristic "serre", some small  mountainous ridges not very elevated,  long and  without strong subsidences, the highest of them it is that of S. Eleuterio,  195 m above the sea level and it is near Parabita. Due to the absence of  mountains the Salento is exposed to the winds, the most important are the Sirocco, hot and damp, coming from the South-East and the south-west wind,that is hotter than the first one, because since it leaves most of the dampness in Sicily and  Calabria. In summer the most frequent  winds come from the north or north-west and often all the country is exposed to the strong Grecale, thus causing some "Lamione" with square plant  sea-storms along the Adriatic slope. The climate,  for different motives, is considered one of the most constant of Italy; in fact the meteorological station of Santa Maria di Leuca, is the only one in the peninsula that in the last years  has recorded the smallest difference between the highest end the lowest temperature(21.0°C and 26.4°C). Probably this is caused by the  sea, which accumulates a big quantity of heat in summer, that then surrenders very gradually during in winter. All that is closely connected to  the raininess, quite scarce, indeed in the last decade these lands have been afflicted by problems of drought. So the climate of the Salento is moderate, with long hot summers and short mild winters. There are different typical landscapes that are very near; in fact the longest distance between the Adriatic and the Ionian slopes in about 40-45 km, the same distance existing between  Otranto and Gallipoli):

ü       Sandy Landscape

ü      Damp  landscape

ü      Rocky coastal Landscape

ü      Hinterland       



Sandy landscape

This kind of landscape is often exposed to notable variations, caused essentially by Particular beach  the erosive strength of the wind and from the tides, that in some cases modify a lot the morphology. For this reason this landscape is often inhospitable and therefore poorly populated by plants and animals. This happens above all in the zones  near the sea  while at the borders of the beach there are some plants that are delimited by a rocky tall wall  and favours the accumulation of the sediments transported by the sea, like near Torre dell'Orso;  or some barriers of sand, the dunes, rise and they mark the border between the beach and the landscape at the back of the dunes. Due  to the protective action of the sand dunes, these  lands  are often so fertile that they can be cultivated, as you can see near Torre Vado. The action of the dunes is closely connected to the very typical vegetation of this area : these plants  grow in particular conditions since the land is not consolidated, it is just sandy. Besides, the local waters in the subsoil have a salty Beach concentration higher than  that of the sweet waters, so  these plants often must  overcome this type of problem. These plants, in order to live in this  environment,  has developed  particular  thin roots, similar to hair, that infiltrate between the microscopic spaces left by the grains of sand, to find water. What is more these plants can  absorb the liquid and hold it: they accumulate  inside  a higher quantity of salts than the external environment. The stem too has peculiar structures called rhizomes: it is hidden in the ground (so it does grow on the surface), it is horizontal and it makes the  dunes resistant to the flow of the wind and to the other erosive phenomena. As the  part of the plant exposed to the light of the sun is concerned, it must be strong enough to  resist the elevated temperatures  in the summer: to avoid the complete Waterline  dewatering they often present fleshy leaves, watery and recovered with thorns, easily visible in the cactus. They are not  tall, they lie outstretched on the ground, that is why they are defined "prostrate". Near the waterline the vegetation is particularly scarce, somewhere absent: the only plants you can find here are the polygon of the sands (Polygonum maritimum), that is very common on our shores. Towards the hinterland you can see the characteristic couch-grass of the beaches (Sporobulus pungens) belonging to the family of the Graminacee, that together to  other  plants belonging to the same family,  contributes to the consolidation of the substratum and it allows the taking root also to other kinds of vegetation, as the lily of the dunes (Pancratum maritimum) whose flower is very white , or the Eryngium maritimum, whose leaves are thorny and its flowers are gathered as into a spherical parasol. Other types of plants are the shrubby ones, with stems more or less woody, that  make moreDunes  compact the ground on which they lie, thus representing the last obstacle against the erosion. Some examples are the Acacia cyanophylla, an evergreen plant, perennial,  bushy  and the Pistacia lentiscus with the characteristics red berries. Not only  the flora is characteristic, also the local fauna in these environments is rather typical, both for the dimensions, never excessively developed, and for the behaviour, prevalently night time or however connected to the hours of the day less hot. Most of the animals are invertebrate, such as a lot of bugs, equipped with cutaneous external covering they abandon, replacing it with a bigger one, after each ecdysis. A typical inhabitant of the dunes is the curious beetle called Scarabeus semipunctatus. On the dunes you can also find an other kind of beetle , more fluorescent Waterline than the precedent, the beetle rhino (Oryctes nasicornis), so called for its long bent "horn", very similar to that of the big African herbivore. Both these beetles are able to fly, but their  flight is rather heavy and noisy, it is very different from that of many elegant butterflies, like the Charaxes jasius that is colourful and it can be seen especially  in autumn and in winter. Another very common bug is the noisy cricket (Lyristes plebejus) that is a real sonorous column in hot summer afternoons. Among the vertebrates, such as the reptiles that often eat the plants mentioned above, there is the lizard (Podaricus sicula), that can be seen above all from the spring to the autumn.  



Damp environment at the back of the dunes

The most important example of this kind of environments is surely the reserve of the Cesine, on the Adriatic coast near the commune of Frigole, at a few km from Lecce. Aythya fuligulaIt has been a natural oasis protected by the WWF for a long time, and it has been studied by a lot of researchers and people passionately fond of nature. On the same slope, you can see some marshy environments, all enough assembled around the zone of the coast that goes from Casalabate  to Otranto, where northwards there are the Alimini Lakes (very important from the naturalistic point of view). Along the Ionic slope , it is still  possible to see some damps brackish basins, like those that  from the beach of the Angels go  to Porto Cesareo, and those between Torre San Giovanni, near the commune of Ugento, and Torre Mozza (all these basins communicate with the sea artificially and in some cases they are regularly used as plants for the fish culture. The reserve of the Cesine is an excellent example as a protected area for its dimensions and its good conditions: there you can discover an enormous variety of vegetables, some growing in the damp sea or brackish environment and others in the sweet water. In the area closer to the sea, where the water is more salted, there are some plants called Erinaceus europaeus“alophila” since thy can grow in very salted areas: they look like a cane thicket, made up above all of  Juncus maritimum and Juncus subulatus, among which there are other types of plants such as the Aster tripulium and other more ancient plants as the  Ipomea sagittata (that is gradually disappearing, in fact it is present only near the Cesine and in other few Italian areas : it is peculiar for its typical bell-shaped flowers and its pink colour. Its gradual disappearance is due essentially to its specific characteristics since it can grow only in places where there is a  certain quantity of salt. In the most damp areas there are other types of plants: the water lilies,  the orchids as the beautiful Orchis palustris and the Orchis laxiflora. In the   lands that are less damp you can find the big thorny rush (Juncus acutus) and a lot of plants called Carex carex; you can also see a luxuriant pine-wood that is turning into macchia mediterranea for the gradual natural substitution of Pinus pinea and Pinus maritimum with the most typical component of the Mediterranean wood  of evergreen broadleaf (plant with wide leaves), that is the holm-oak (Quercus ilex). The brushwood is full of shrubby plants,  very perfumed too, as the Myrtus communis, the heather (Erica Arborea),  Meles melesthe lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), typical of these zones, and the the Erica manipuliflora that finds its origins in the Balkans. About the most typical fauna there are the amphibians, like the common toads (Bufo bufo) and the frogs (Rana esculenta), but you can also see the newts, as the Triturus cristatus and the Triturus italicus. The former is marked by a brownish back, with darker punctuations and the abdomen is yellow, orange or orange- reddish, and it has always   characteristic   blackish stains. This animal can reach a maximum length of 18 cm (the female) or 14 (the male). The former, instead,  is typical of the southern Italy, it is dark green,  smaller than the previous one, since it is long  11 cm at the most. Both live in contact with the sweet  water and they usually stay on dry land only for a short period of the year. Almost all the amphibians constitute the favourite food of several reptiles, as the Natrix natrix, very common in the damp areas and whose colour changes often. This reptile has a characteristic yellow collar (but sometime it is white , orange  or red) behind the Vipera aspishead: being a skilled swimmer it goes shooting in water above all tadpoles, frogs and small fish. An other reptile, but very different from the previous one, is the turtle  (Emys arbicularis) whose carapace is  oval , brownish, frequently marked by clear yellow dots and striations: It eats fish, amphibians and invertebrate and because of the constant reduction of its habitat the turtle is disappearing in the Salento, and it survives only in the Oasis of the Cesine. In the Salento you can also see a lot of different birds and some of them are migratory. In the periods of transit or during all year long, the people who are fond of birdwatching (observation of the birds in their natural environment admire the splendid white herons (Egretta dawn), up the trees or while they are fishing in the low coastal waters. An other bird good at fishing, it is the black cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), that has got a long beak and it can be seen while it stands in erect position on the rocks and  its wings  not completely open; Ardea cinereaoften you can also see this bird jumping from the rocks  in order to  chase the fish. A very similar bird, even  if it is completely black, is the “marangone dal ciuffo” (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), that often nidifies near  the colonies of cormorants, up the trees or on the rocks. In winter you can see big flocks of coots (Fulica atra), a big aquatic bird, that has got a black plumage, but with the characteristic beak and an ample frontal plate completely white. Often it swims together to other ducks, such as the real German (Anas platyrhynchos), with the classical yellow beak and the beautiful wedding male plumage, characterized by the green head with metallic reflexes, and a thin white ring around the neck. Sometime these birds represent an irresistible call for some rapacious birds, like the hawk of swamp (Circus aeroginosu) that chases in the reeds. Other types of birds are the “tuffetto” (Podiceps ruficollis) , the colourful kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) that have got a blue, green  plumage, a low and rapid flight and seldom you can admire the unmistakable  pink flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber).  



Rocky coastal environment

The morphology of the coasts of the Salento is the evident result of that typical phenomenon of this Italian region : the karst phenomena. The chemical-physical Low rocky coast  composition  of the ground and other characteristics of the rock make this place really spectacular. The beauty and the variability of the rocky coastal environment of the Salento is one of the reasons for which it is worth visiting this land. Walking along the coast along both the slopes, it is possible to appreciate some wonderful landscapes  and some of them are  still wild and they have not been spoiled by the man, as  the long gullies, dug by ancient courses of water, that from the hinterland go toward the blue intense of the sea, particularly the one near Porto Badisco, at the south of Otranto, and that of the Ciolo in the commune of Gagliano del Capo. The Neretina coast too, on the ionic shore, is an example of the immense riches that this land “kissed” by the sun offers to the visitor. This is the reason for which some years ago this zone  was at the centre of an active campaign against the realization of a plan of apportionment that would have changed the landscape a lot. After that campaign a Regional Park  was created to  safeguard the whole territory and promote a sustainable development of that area. These environments are very important since they often “hide” wonderful surprises:  Many rocky sheer promontories above the sea that Rocky coast of the Adriatic shore  apparently appear lifeless and totally inhospitable, represent instead, the ideal habitat of several animals and plants. The particularities of these plants (and  some of them are very beautiful) are so interesting that they  deserve a detailed analysis about  their morphology and their area of distribution. In the far south of the peninsula you can see the cornflower of Leuca (Centaurea leucadea), a plant to belonging the family of the Compositae, as the chicory and the artichoke, and marked by a grassy shrubby appearance (a plant endowed with a tender stem and bush-shaped).  It was discovered in the 1925 by Lacaita, a botanist from Apulia that individualized this rare plant with  pink flowers present  only in the rocky landscape of Novaglie, and of the Capo di Leuca, in general. The flowering of the cornflower is usually in spring, and its leaves have a peculiar whitish down  that protects them from the long exposures to the heat in summer time. If you go northwards, and particularly along the coast that goes from Otranto to Santa Cesarea, in the more arid and bare sheer areas  above the sea, there is another typical plant, the Echinops spinosissimus. This plant has got a flower visible only in summer: its  colour is almost blue-sky and it is similar to that of the thorny sea-urchins, and it can grow in very hard and inhospitable environments (it Punta Meliso  usually  grows in zones that are eastern than Italy). The common characteristic of these two rare plants is that they can be seen in a very small  geographical zone of a few km. Compatibly with the environmental conditions, each living species occupies the surrounding territory as much as it is possible in order to assure the continuation of its own kind. The natural ecosystems are not ever static systems, on the contrary they are in continuous evolution; so there are some areas where it is possible to notice through the years a complete exchange of the plants, (and sometimes of the  animals too) that leads to the gradual but inexorable replacement of all the living organisms by other more specialized and therefore mostly adapted species. The environments that are more inhospitable,  where the cornflower and the spherodiscus, grow,  are not subject to great changes because of their morphology and  their chemical  and physical characteristics , therefore the plants that can grow here are few and they generally do not need particular feeding, that is why they are called “pioneers”. Thanks to their great adaptability to inhospitable zones, as cliffs or rocks, it is very easy to find this Perspective from the cave of the Porcinara  type of plants: they have got a grassy shrubby appearance, they are  very resistant to the saltiness and through their particular radical apparatuses they can settle down firmly to the rocky substratum and insinuate  in depth to absorb the water, the precious element they need. Looking from the sea towards the most inside zones of the rocky coast, you can see different plants,  at first isolated and marked by a grassy appearance, after some metres more and more thick : they  are the well known macchia mediterranea. Between the typically rocky plants (plants growing on the rocks) that can be found only  in the Salento, there are  the alisso of  Leuca (Alyssum leucadeum), that like the cornflower is covered with a dense whitish down, and other typical plants as the “campanula of Apulia (Campanula versicolor), that grows exclusively in Apulia and in Basilicata, and the Scrofularia. A climbing thorny plant, widespread in the Salento is the caper (Capparis spinosa); the buds of its flowers, when they are still very small, are put in a can containing some vinegar and they are used to season numerous courses and the cool summer salads. An other wild grass, the sea-fennel (Chritimum maritimum), is preserved with oil and  used as vegetables. Two very good  aromatic plants are the rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) with its typical thin leaves, almost needle shaped, very used to season the roast beef, and  the laurel (Laurus nobilis) a bush whose leaves Cazzafri Caves (Santa Maria di Leuca)  are often used for the preparation of excellent courses, or to aromatise liqueurs. In the Salento, some people dry its leaves and add them to dried figs containing an almond, a rich and natural snack for the children and the adult. The fig tree (Ficus carica L.) grows spontaneously on the rocks and it is present everywhere in the Salento. In this rocky landscape you can also find  two other typical Mediterranean plants (even if both come  from the distant Mexico, from where they were introduced in the XVI century for ornamental purposes ) that are the prickly pears (Opuntia ficus-indica) and the agave (Agave amaricana L.). The first tree is a perennial kind and can be some meters tall: it is often called cactus  but it is very different from it for its peculiar flattened and segmented shape.  It has got  very long thorns (called by the people of Salento “pale”)  and can even be half a metre long and 20-25 cm large. In the summer period, on their leaves there are some fruits, also they thorny, but with very Coast of Santa Maria di Leuca  small thorns almost invisible, but annoying to the touch: they are ovoidal shaped and their colour can vary from yellow to violet; o the inside a pulp, equally coloured, very juicy and sweet, is rich of seeds. Often these fruits are cooked to prepare jams or cookies. The agave is not as tasty as the prickly pear  but it has a characteristic inflorescence (the disposition of the flowers of a plant), and it is more than 5 meters tall. Also the agave  is a perennial plant, made up by the typical fleshy and very long leaves, the thorny and toothed borders, with a big thorn at the top of the same leaf. It can grow on the coastal rocky borders, but also on arid and sunny grounds. The macchia mediterranea includes different types of bushes as the  myrtle (Myrtus communis), with its characteristics black-purplish berries good for jams and liqueurs, and very appreciated by some animals like many birds as the crows (Corvus corone cornix) and the omnipresent magpies (Pica pica). One of the main characteristic of this type of environment is however the notable variety of perfumes breathe, crossing the numerous paths that coast along the coastal shores.      



The environment of the hinterland 

The hinterland of the Salento is not very distant from the sea, that is why the Pinus pineaclimate is always mild, also in winter. Just for these characteristics the flora and the fauna assume the typical Mediterranean aspect, and they can survive in arid environments. What most marks the  landscape of the Salento is the constant presence of the olive-trees, a green expanse that covers the whole Salento from a slope to the other, almost assuming a character of monocoltura. This so adaptable and fascinating plant grows everywhere, in the most fertile earth and in the rocks; a popular motto affirms that the olivo, to live well, needs five essential "S": silenzio, siccità, solitudine, sole e sassi ( meaning silence, drought, loneliness, sun and stones). Obviously this is an exaggeration, but it can explain the nature of this plant. Another important cultivation is the grape,  indeed the Salento is famous for some special wines that are both red and rosy, many of them certified (D.O.C.). The most famous areas for the production of vineyards are  Ugento, Ficus caricaMatino, Galatina and Nardò on the ionic shore and Salice Salentino and Carmiano. In the last few years flowers too are grown, above all near Gallipoli, Taviano and Alezio, and they are sold everywhere in Italy. From this brief introduction it is easy to understand that the agriculture plays an important role in the economy of the Salento. This has influenced a lot the dimensions, the nature and the maintenance of those areas  defined “wild” and generally covered with  the characteristic “macchia mediterranea” Some semi-natural wooded areas are near Alessano, Tricase, Ugento, Presicce, Supersano, along the Adriatic coast, as for instance in the natural oasis of the Cesine, S. Cataldo, Frigole and the Alimini Lakes, near Otranto. On the opposite slope, the pinetes are numerous near Myrtus communisGallipoli and near Porto Cesareo , S. Caterina of Nardò and Porto Selavaggio. These places are defined semi-natural since man has modified the environment, its diversity and quality. This is important because if  a field is left in state of total abandonment, a long and inexorable sequence of invasions of different vegetable kinds would start,  and this process is called  ecological succession:  after one year from the abandonment, the field would already be covered with weeds, that would disappear almost entirely after two or three years and replaced by perennial plants, bushes and small trees. In practice the bushes replace the weeds and the small trees become bigger and bigger , thus giving life to a thick wood. Once reached this state, the change gets slower and this means that the ecological succession has reached its state of climax. This is the ideal condition in which the evergreen and latifoglia plants grow. As the macchia mediterranea is concerned, its aspect changes  since it is influenced by some environmental and territorial characteristics: somewhere the macchia mediterranea is  represented above all by plants having a tender stem, enough low, as the Cirsium lanceolatum, Carduus argyroa, Carduus corymbosus, Silybum marianum, or  the wild fennel (Phoeniculu vulgare) whose seeds are used for seasoning  the friselline. Besides there is the Testudo hermanni wild sage (fruticose Pholomis) and the wild carrot (Daucus carrot), very common in the local cooking. Generally the Macchia Mediterranea is a vegetable association unitary enough, constituted by entities showing adaptations and modifications of the same type, as for example their dimensions: the leaves are very small in order to reduce the transpiration at the most. Another particularity is closely connected to the biological cycle that develops especially in autumn - The more common  shrubby types  are the heather (Heather manipuliflora) and the corbezzolo (Arbustus unedo) with its red and globular fruits, very similar to big cherries, with a juicy and rather sweet yellowish pulp. The fruit of a plant, the locust (Ceratonia siliqua), until a few years ago was everywhere in the Salento,  and it was given to the horses. The plant belongs to the family of the leguminoses  and the fruit  is a leaning pod, of dark brown color, leathery, flat, 20 centimeters Ciconia nigralong and very perfumed. It contains some seeds, dark, called carats (from the Arabic word Qirat), that for their constant weight were used to measure precious stones and gold. This plant can assume a bushy aspect, but more commonly arboreal: it can be 15 meters tall  and its foliage is very big and thick ;  this tree often grows  with other plants such  as the Olea oleaster, and the fig tree (Ficus carica). Among the vegetable kinds populating these areas there are the shrubby plants, woody plants with a perennial stem as the Rosmarinus officinalis, the Rubus ulmifolius, the myrtle (Myrtus communis) and a lot of other plants that can grow more and more. The most typical trees of the zone are without any doubt the  Vallonea oak (Quercus aegilops): now there are just few  samples of this tree and they can be seen near the commune of Tricase, that boasts the presence of the oldest plant of the whole Salento (600 years ). These stately trees have an imposing aspect: they can be  20 meters tall and the diameter of their trunk can be over 1 meter. Besides they have got a wide foliage that, in the case of the sample of Tricase, covers a surface of around 500 m2s. The leaves can be recognized for the notable width and their indented borders, of almost oval shape and rather lengthened, while the fruits (the acorns) are very big and mature at the Bubo buboend of autumn. A very common tree  is the holm-oak (Quercus ilex), that can assume both an arboreal conformation and a bushy aspect:  the leaves can have the shape of an iron lance in the first case, while in the second they are circular. The foliage is usually thick enough, ample and oval, slender upward, while the bark is dark grey, smooth in the young samples, while in the old ones it is made up of  small plates. The fruits are acorns, however smaller than those of the oaks. In the woods, together with the leccio you can also see the Pinus Halepensis mill:  it can reach the 20 ms of height, and it adapts very well to the very sunny zones being very resistant to the aridity. The trunk and the branches of this tree are often bent and twisted and they have a bark that can change coloration, becoming reddish. The leaves are narrow (in order to reduce the transpiration)  while the fruits are constituted by pine-cones. In the Salento you can also see the characteristic maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) with its long stem (that can overcome abundantly the 25 - 30 ms ) and with the classical roundish chioma; also this pine has got narrow leaves  and conic pine-cones. The Lacerta viridisdomestic pine (Pinus pinea), instead , is often cultivated, because its pine-cones contain the pinolis, seeds used in Liguria as fundamental ingredient for the pestum, while in the Salento they are used for the sweets. This is a tree that can reach 25 ms of height and it needs a lot of light and heat. In the south of the Salento there are different types of animals: from the smallest invertebrates to the vertebrates dominated by the mammals. Among the bugs, there is the Papilio machaon, a great very fluorescent and elegant  butterfly, yellow and black, and a wide blue string; this is one of the greatest Italian diurnal butterflies. Others, instead, are completely camouflaged in the vegetation as the Bacillus rossii that becomes invisible in its natural habitat, the bushes. Finally the  famous Mantis religiosa  known for its particular habit to devour the companion, after being fecundated, but that it is also an insatiable carnivorous that feeds on flies, grasshoppers, butterflies and many other bugs. A very well known carnivorous bug is the tarantula (Lycosa tarentula), a big spider of reddish grey color, with Asphodelus fistolosusblack sketches. In the  past, the people stung by this animal were thought to be "possessed" by its  spirit and the only way to set this person free  was a special dance called "pizzica” with an evident reference to the puncture of the animal. Among the most tireless raiders of bugs there are many vertebrates, as the Upupa epops that has got an the unmistakable aspect, with the bent beak , a the long erectile crest, a brown plumage - rosy, and the tail and the wings of white and black color. The upupa feeds on bugs and small worms that  finds near the macchia mediteranea. One of the most beautiful and biggest birds is  (above all the male) the pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) having a long and pointed tail:  when this heavy animal is frightened, it flies away producing  a notable noise. Among the carnivorous birds living in the Salento, there is the owl (Athene noctua) considered as bird of ill Borago officinalisomen: it is very useful since at night it hunts small rodents like mice and other little animals. This animal is marked by a great head, a flattened  face and its  eyes are yellow. Even if it has predominantly nighttime habits, in the daytime, it can be seen up the  telegraphic poles, and however near the countries. During a walk in the narrow country streets, it is possible to hear lots of small birds cinguettare as the Erithacus rubecula, the capinera (Sylvia atricapilla), the colored Carduelis carduelis and many others. The nests of these birds are often ransacked by the reptiles, particularly by the green ramarro (Lucerta viridis), that is a great lizard and by a snake typical of the zone, the Elaphe quatuorlineata, the greatestCistus incanus reptile in Italy that can also reach 2,5 ms of length. It feeds on eggs of the fox (Vulpes vulpes), one of the greater and fleeing wild mammals of the whole Salento, unfortunately victim of nighttime road accidents. It is a very bashful animal,  living above all  in the woods, but sometimes it gets close to the inhabited centers. It has got a long and thick tail and a reddish mantle. This animal feeds on fruits, berries and dead animals. What is more this fox is a skilled huntress, that captures often small rodents as the wild mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) and the greatest and wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Among the other mammals you can see the  bashful Meles meles: it looks like  a big dog , it has got a stumpy body and short legs, a lengthened face and a thin head with some white and black longitudinal strips. The dorsal mantle is greyish, the tail is short and grey. This animal  lives in underground dens that it digs with its strong legs, in woody territories, but also in open pastures, Opuntia ficus-indicaand in winter it falls in lethargy for the whole cold season. It usually feeds on berries and fruit; it is often found eating sweets melons , so the peasants hunt it and they call it malogna. Lately however it has become difficult to see this animal, also for its nighttime habits. Another animal that lives among the bushes, at the edges of the woods, but also in the gardens, is the curious  Erinaceus europaeus:  this is very active at night and to the twilight, when it abandons its nest of grass, leaves and the whole vegetable material that it finds. It  feeds on bugs, snails,  worms and fruit.   



The olive tree, treasure of the Salento  

The olive tree is surely the most diffused plant of the whole Salento, and probably it is the plant  that better represents the Mediterranean civilization. Its millennial history is a synthesis between legend and reality; according to the Greek mythology it was the goddess Minerva, challenged by Neptune, who made rise the first oil tree full of flowers and fruits. This has been a symbol of peace for a long Olea europeatime. It seems that also during the war, Hannibal, that was very tired, recommended to the Carthaginians to go and see Scipio  on the boats adorned of branches of this plant in order to be at peace definitely. In 1969 (July), in a period marked by the success of technology, when there was the first landing on the Moon, the American astronauts placed a plate to remember that special mission, and it was engraved a branch of oil tree as a symbol of peace. But surely the most famous episode closely connected with  this plant is that of the end of the Deluge and therefore of the divine anger towards  man, when the dove gave to Noah a little branch of olive tree. In Italy when you celebrate the Palms the branches of this plant are blessed and hanged to protect the family during the whole year. As far as the human feeding is concerned the olive tree has hot a notable importance: the oil that has two important characteristics: it reduces the level of cholesterol in the blood and it is rich in antioxidants that contribute to prevent cardio-vascular dysfunctions and to reduce the general aging of the cells. Also for this motive, being a fundamental ingredient of it, the Mediterranean diet it is considered by physicians, dieticians one of the best ones.    


The olive tree and the oil 

The Olea europae belongs to the Oleacees, it is an evergreen plant,  indeed there are several samples of ancient trees, while its leaves renew every two - three years. From the aesthetical point of view it is surely one of the most beautiful plants Olea europeaof the Salento; it possesses a very wide radical apparatus , a trunk very rich in ramifications that stretches out upwards and a thick and evergreen leafy branch. The typical varieties of the low Salento are the Cellina of Nardò and the Oglialora, from which a very delicate and perfumed oil is drawn, excellent to season any dish both crush and raw. These plants sprout at  10 - 11 °Cs and it passes from the state of flower to that of fruit,  at  21 - 22 °Cs. In the period of the flowering, ( between April and June), the tree is completely covered with small white flowers, the most part of which falls and less than the 10% of the flowers reaches complete maturation with the fruits. These last ones are very different for dimension (from 1 to 10 gs). The olives mature between November and February, but the moment of the harvest depends on many factors ( meteorological and climatic. The methodologies of harvest are very different, according to the type of territory on which the plants grow, and the type of system of the firm. The harvest can  be made through the following manual techniques: 

ü    The farmers pick the olives up directly from the tree; this is a slow and expensive system since it needs  a lot of manpower, but the crop is of good quality and above all the tree is not spoiled.  

ü      The olives fall on some special sheets  under the trees and later the olives are  picked up by hand, with some special brooms or machines.    

Recently the olives are picked up through a peculiar mechanical “comb” that detaches the olives from the ground, or through a mechanical arm that shakes the tree in order to make the olives fall down.  After picking up the olives, they are taken to the oil mill , a place where they are washed, and pressed within 48 - 72 Olea europeahours. There are two types of crusher: the traditional one in which the olives are squeezed through one or more massive structure (rotating heavy wheels of stone), and the industrial one. The must produced is often submitted to a delicate remixing, so that the droplets of oil, in the following operation of squeezing, become bigger and they can be separated more easily: this operation is defined “gramolatua”. Then the mash is squeezed, with a slow but gradual pressure, then the gotten oil is separated from the must ( oil, water, fragments of pulp, peel and core). The oil still contains some vegetable residues that are definitely eliminated through decantazione. Later the oil has to be preserved in special containers, far from light and heat. The ideal temperature is between 12 and 14°C. Generally, if correctly preserved, the qualities of the oil stay unchanged at least for one year. There are different types of oil: the  extravergine oil of olive and the virgin of olive. This classification is closely connected to the legislation of the European Union, according to which  the oil of an edible olive can have four different denominations. Besides, by law, the denomination "oil of olive" is reserved to the product made without addition of extraneous substances and oils of other nature. 

ü      Extravirgin oil of olive: it is gotten by a mechanical system of squeezing of the olives, and during the operations of washing, sedimentation and  filtering no substance is added and the level of acidity is less than 1 gram every 100 grams. The taste has to be absolutely perfect and the organolectic level is equal or superior to 6,5. 

ü      Virgin oil of olive: its acidity cannot be superior to 2 gs every 100 g. The organolectic level has to be equal or superior to 5,5. 

ü      Olive oil: its acidity cannot exceed 1,5 g every 100 gs. 

ü      Oil of sansa and olive: it is made of oil of refined sansa and different types of virgin oils; its acidity  cannot exceed 1,5 gs every 100 gs. 


The difference between the first two types of oil and the latter ones is that the formers are produced without any chemical modification.  From the nourishing point of view, the olive oil is constituted above all by trigliceridi, that represent the Olea europeamost important group of the alimentary fats. The trigliceridi can be divided into saturated and unsaturated; the former  are abundant in the animal fats (as the butter, the lard, etc.), the latter are present in the vegetable fats, as the olive oil. The unsaturated fat acids are important  for the organism, since they reduce the level of cholesterol and prevent different pathologies as the arteriosclerosis (caused by the accumulation of cholesterol on the inside wall of the blood vases) that can cause very serious illnesses as the heart attacks and the ictus. The oil of olive has an extremely balanced composition of unsaturated fat acids: in percentage the oleico acid represents 73%, the linoleico 9%, the linolenico him 0,3%. Besides this type of fat acids, in the olive oil there is also a certain percentage of defined fat acids poliinsaturi, called "essential" because our organism is not able to synthesize them, therefore they must necessarily be introduced with the feeding. Oil is also constituted by vitamins such as Á., E, K and D and many others that have got an antioxidant power, with protective effects for the cells and the whole organism. For these reasons the olive oil is considered one of the fundamental ingredients of the cooking of the Salento and of the Mediterranean, therefore an essential food both for the taste and the health.