The exterior is white, of Lecce stone. The interior is coloured, with Byzantine frescoes. The Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate reveals itself in all its splendour, unveiling vestiges and traces of the various eras it has lived through, re-emerging from the restoration work carried out by the FAI (Italian National Trust), which has held the property in concession since 2012.
The church of Santa Maria has come back to life, as a place of worship, and is reopening the abbey to the public as a cultural and tourist site of enormous importance, with its multifaceted narrative.
A powerful spirituality emanates from what was once a Byzantine-rite monastery founded by the great Norman leader of the First Crusade, Bohemond of Altavilla, son of the famous Robert Guiscard, Duke of Puglia, Calabria and Sicily.
Extremely elegant lines define the Romanesque architecture of the church, and they are embellished with a series of hanging arches and a small rose window, as well as a loggia with superbly sculpted capitals and 13th-century portals.
In Cerrate, the transformation of the southern Italian monastery into a historic farm specialising in olive processing during the Renaissance period is also still very much evident. The beautiful well, the mill and the two underground oil mills date from that time.
If the atmosphere that one experiences in the abbey is that of a place where time has stood still, there are also ongoing initiatives that bring Cerrate bang up to date. The interactive touchscreen with which one can play at rearranging the fresco of a church nave is one such example. The FAI's commitment, in addition to allowing the site to be opened to the public (also thanks to the collaboration with ArtWork), is also aimed at extending the best possible welcome to visitors, by providing the property with all modern amenities as well as a charming café in the loggia overlooking the courtyard.
A trip to Salento would not be complete without a visit to this magical place. Halfway between Lecce and Brindisi, adjoining the Bosco e Paludi di Rauccio Regional Natural Park, a stone's throw from one of the most stunning seas in Italy, Cerrate is sure to amaze tourists.