The Salento forms more or less the bottom quarter of Puglia, and parts of it still bear its antique Grecian influence. After all, it was an outlying post of Magna Grecia once upon a time, as the spectacular archeological museum in Taranto attests to.
These days, European tourists are rediscovering Puglia (and Salento) in droves. It's beaches, olive plantations, cucina povera and its limestone cities are its main pulls, but archaeologists working away at Castro, Santa Cesarea's neighbouring town, have just made a discovery of their own which will remind everyone of its historic importance.
There's been much speculation in recent years that Castro or Porto Badisco (not far from Otranto) was once host to a fortress and temple dedicated to Minerva.
Minerva, for those of you who are a little bit rusty on your Roman and Grecian pantheons, was the Roman's recasting of Athena. After all, those pesky Grecian gods needed to be localised for local audiences...
Back to the speculation about the temple...A find in recent days on site at Castro seems to have settled the argument. A 1m long bust has been uncovered at the site, three metres under the current level of the town. This added to pieces such as an arm and fingers that have also been found, suggesting that there is a good possibility the entire remains of the statue will be recovered.
The bust that has been found features finely carved details of the dress with long, flowing drapery lines. Added to the pedestal that was also found, the piece is likely to have formed part of a colossal, 4 metre high statue of Minerva of Aeneas, which potentially dates back to the 3rd or 4th century BC.
The significance? Well, everything is pointing to modern day Castro being the site that Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid mentioned when describing a coastal temple that had been erected in honour of Minerva who protected the Greeks during the battle of Troy.
The position of the bust, which was found interred on its side, suggests that the statue was placed in a funerary position that would enable it to be protected and preserved for generations once we worked out where the temple complex lay.
Work will continue over the coming weeks, but it's nice to see the buzz that the discovery has already created around Italy. And how fitting that in this historical period for the EU that Puglia's connection to ancient Greece comes to light once again.
And more importantly, the finding will reinforce the importance of archeological heritage, particularly because of the significance it can lend to small towns whose income relies heavily on the ever competitive (and picky) tourist dollar.
More coverage (in Italian) here.