Within a patchwork of agricultural fields in the Lecce province of Puglia lies one of my favorite Romanesque abbeys, the Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate. The complex of buildings sprouted in the 12th century represents one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture you’ll find in Puglia today.
On a bright morning, the sun gleams from the limestone facade of the church and the camera renders the sky an impossibly deep blue. You can feel the calm. The church is typically simple, like the food of Puglia. It’s open—not cluttered with all those spiritual market-stall chapels that surround the nave as in modern churches.
Although the church is stunning—and contains 13th century frescoes you can see below—there is more:
The Church is complemented not only by an arcade but also by the Monks’ House, the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions, and a building erected in the 16th century, which probably originally served as a cowshed and is now an exhibition space. The Abbey was not only a religious centre but also a productive hub: out of the close links between the Abbey and the surrounding countryside so rich in olive groves, fruit trees and crops, there arose a great deal of agricultural activity, and today we can see the remains of two ancient underground olive oil mills and wells for collecting the oil. ~ Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate
The fountain has already been restored, thanks to a donation from Prada. While the architecture and frescoes await their turn at restoration.
To Plan a Visit
The site is currently open on weekends.
According to the FIA site linked above, “The Abbey is on restoration. Please call (0039) 02 467615325 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org to verify the opening hours and/or to reserve a guided tour. The Abbey is closed on December,25th and 26th, January 1st.”
We just drove in and had a look around. It’s a pretty amazing place to wander in.
Staying: we recommend Masseria Provenzani near the Abbey, a very fine and very affordable Masseria reworked into rooms and suites, highly recommended. Cooking schools are offered.