Often described, a bit simplistically, as uniform and full of olive trees, the landscape that unfurls before the eyes is, rather, morphologically very varied and includes quite different natural environments. It represents no less than the result of a thousand stratifications that link natural components and the history of man in an indissoluble alliance. And each of these stratifications has left its mark. The landscape of olive groves and vineyards, as common and, so to speak, repertorial as it is, is, all in all, a recent image, that dates back only to the beginning of the 1800's.
The blanket of extensive crops covers, only partially, other important elements that contribute to the characterisation of the territory. First of all, a few morphological and orographic outcroppings native to this area must be highlighted: above all, the karst phenomena and the system of flood grounds (paleo incisions originating from torrents that begin on the Murgia and flow into the sea); the forested areas (most of which were recently planted, but which, in a few areas still have the original vegetation of oaks, frutex and downy oaks) that offer a primordial image of these lands, which were so dear to Federico II of Swabia; the valley and the mouth of the Ofanto River and the complex system of the damp areas and the saline areas; the Murgia; the first Murgian step sheltering immediately behind the coastal strip; and finally, the sea. The beauty of these places amply justifies the inclusion of most of the inland areas within the perimeter of the National Park of the High Murgia (recently instituted), and the inclusion of the damp areas and the mouth of the Ofanto among the protected areas and sites of comunitarian interest.
And, more in general, this is also a place having strong connotation with light, with its thousand variations: from the clear light of the stratified skies of the Murgia, to the dazzling light of the saline and coastal areas, to the blinding light of day and the soft light of evening reflected by our stone cities. It is this comprehensive natural condition that favoured the population of this area, which over the centuries generated another landscape: that built by man. The result of settlements that have succeeded one another over time, from prehistoric sites, to troglodytic and grotto communities, to ancient urbanisation, and so on, continuing up to the expansions of today. It has been the presence of man – and, therefore, history – that has generated economic and social complexity and, as a consequence, the need for the planned exploitation of the resources of the territory.
The result of all this is a landscape of small coastal walled gardens, a landscape markedly effected by the sheep-tracks of the transhumance and by all the territorial organisation associated with it, a landscape that derives from the imposing work done to reclaim the coastal swamps, and a landscape shaped by the massive operations of agricultural reform, begun in the 1700's and completed in the last century. And finally, there is the landscape of the history of the cities, the physical landscape of the buildings and the factories and the cultural landscape of ways of speaking, habits, cuisine. Because our territory is not meant only to be crossed, but to be lived and tasted in its most intriguing aspects. It is, therefore, a very dense landscape that merits a rapid description of its geographical characteristics and a synthesis of it evolutionary phases.