Ostuni: Labyrinth of White

The beautiful city of Ostuni. Photo: Alma Reyes ©

Ostuni is a city of stone white walls, olive trees and blue seas.

In one particular moment of serenity, I was standing at the foot of Vico Goffredo Mamelli street, its stone slabs thick, tough and forbearing; initially looking huge and aged, then slowly shrinking at a distance into uneven patches of mosaic. Everything became smaller and smaller as my eyes traveled along the rugged slope of this fragile, narrow alley that seems to be unable to protect itself from the shake of a tremor.

My gaze fell upon the far end where little steps, flanked by a few pretty geranium pots, met with the whitewashed walls and the clear, blue Mediterranean sky. I could breathe the rustic fumes of Puglia’s haunting secrets, sealed within the rampart of the silvery white city of Ostuni.

On this unpolished street I made my “home” for a few days. I looked out from the grilled iron terrace of my apartment and saw below my neighbour’s robust silhouette, waiting to greet me, “Buongiorno!” It was a chaste Southern morning as I leaned against the balcony railing, observing my landlady across the building as she performed her immaculate chore of hanging laundry, peeping cautiously behind the white sheets to ask me if I had slept well the night before. All these mysterious exchanges of broken tongues are harmonized only by the saving grace of human telepathy.

Here, language is not all about words.

Ostuni, inhabited by Messapians, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Normans, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, Greeks and Romans, flourished from the year 1000 into an embellishment of monasteries, churches, sculptural icons, and the most complex maze of white-bathed buildings squeezed in a circular hill above the blue Adriatic.

It stands like a fortress with an incessant desire to be immune to the velocity of time; it’s a retreat from modern, bustling life. In the old medieval town, lime-washed structures jut out from a hidden pathways and steep stairways. Alcoves of Baroque ornaments, unexpected corners bordered by bending cacti, or a sudden glimpse of the sea and sky sandwiched between two houses hits you with a surprising jolt, almost as devilish as the midnight moon.

It is the mystery of a web of alleys that keeps you wanting to discover more and more without having to predict what is to come or where it will lead you, each revelation more stirring than before. The air is a ghostly white and the aesthetics of the balcony curves, window frames, door handles combined with the green olive trees and sparkling blue sea complete the contradiction of serenity and energy.

The central Piazza della Libertàis equally exhilarating, as the plethora of buildings gives way to a clear, unobstructed open space, splendored by the dominating Church of San Francesco. A stop at Mozzarella & Co. or Coffee & More, two of the cafés just across the piazza is a perfect way to enjoy a cappuccino accompanied with a chocolate or marmalade cornetto.

One can sample Pugliese cuisine at La Taverna Della Gelosia, tucked within the labyrinth of white houses in a romantic setting, with vines overhead and surrounding trees permitting a wonderfully framed view of the ocean. Orecchiette with turnip top and panzerotti, mashed beans with chicory, chickpeas and cavatelli pasta, focaccia with onions and a basket of Southern taralli are sumptuous treats that will fill your nostrils with irresistible temptation.

For every vast white space there is a speck of tint and shade, just as for every old man that sits pensively on the piazza steps there is a young, vibrant lad on his Vespa bike, ready to conquer the world outside the city walls.

Ostuni is a vision of ivory, yet a recipe of ancient secrets, boiling with expression; it is resistant to change, clinging to its beauty all on its own.

One of Ostuni's many alleys. Photo: Alma Reyes ©