Otranto Cathedral

Otranto, Italy

Otranto Cathedral is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. It is the archiepiscopal seat of the Archdiocese of Otranto. The cathedral was consecrated in 1088. It is 54 metres long by 25 metres wide and is built on 42 monolithic granite and marble columns from unknown quarries. Its plan is a three-aisled nave with an apsidal east end. On either side of the west façade are two lancet windows.

The most famous feature of the cathedral is the 12th-century floor mosaic covering the entire floor of the nave, the sanctuary and the apse, which is one of the best to survive. The bell tower next to the cathedral was also built in the 12th century.

In August 1480, clergy and survivors of the Ottoman siege of Otranto took refuge in the cathedral – the Ottoman force eventually broke in and killed those inside, turning the church into mosque and destroying its 13th-century frescoes. After Otranto was retaken in 1481 by a force under Alfonso V of Aragon it was turned back into a church and heavily rebuilt to house the relics of the Martyrs of Otranto, who had been executed after the 1480 siege. The reconstruction included the rose window on the gabled west front. In the south aisle is the Chapel of the Martyrs, built by order of Ferdinand I of Naples and rebuilt at public expense in 1711.

A north-west door was built in the late 15th or early 16th century by Nicholas Fernando on the instructions of archbishop Serafino da Squillace, whose figure was carved on the structure. In 1674 a Baroque west door was added. In the north aisle is a Baroque baptistery commissioned by archbishop Michele Orsi in the mid 18th century, a burial monument to Francesco Maria de Aste (died 1719) and the mausoleum of the metropolitan Gaetano Cosso (died 1655). In 1693 archbishop Francesco Maria De Aste built the triumphal arch and in 1698 covered the central nave and the sanctuary with a black, white and gilded wooden ceiling.


The hut-shaped façade was restored numerous times during the past centuries. After the ravages of the Turkish occupation in 1480, a large rose window was added: this includes 16 rays with Gothic/Arabic-style, convergent holes. The Baroque-style main portal consists of two half-fluted columns on either side holding up the pediment, with the coat of arms of Archbishop Gabriel de Santander Adarzo supported by two angels. A minor portal, dating to the later 15th-early 16th centuries, is located on the left side of the church. The façade is completed by two single mullioned windows.

The large bell tower has a square plan and a sturdy appearance, with four rounded windows. The decoration of the arches and frames show similar elements of the exterior of the church. The tower, built in mostly white, local variants of limestone, was likely the support of a taller structure, which overwatched the sea and the surrounding areas.


The interior plan has a nave and two aisles with apses, separated by twelve arches, which are supported by fourteen granite columns each with a different capital

The high altar is in the presbytery area, with an 18th-century silver antependium, with episodes of the Annunciation of Mary.

The remaining frescoes on the walls include traces of Byzantine-style figures, such as the Madonna with Child in the right aisle. The aisles house six altars dedicated to the Resurrection of Jesus, St. Dominic, Assumption of Mary (right), the Pentecost, the Visitation of Mary and St. Anthony of Padua (left), respectively. The left aisle is also home to a Baroque-style baptistery from the mid-18th century, a funerary monument to Francesco Maria de Aste (died 1719) and the mausoleum of Gaetano Cosso (died 1655).

The right aisle ends with the Chapel of the Martyrs. It houses, in seven large glassed recesses, the bones of the Otranto citizens slaughtered and beheaded by the Ottomans on 14 August 1480 after they had refused to abandon the Christian faith. Behind the marble altar is the alleged 'Martyrdom Rock', a stone where, according to the tradition, the eight hundred people were killed.

The crypt, mostly located under the apse and the presbytery, dates from the 11th century and is inspired by Theodosius' cistern and the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba. It has three semi-circular apses and forty-eight bays supported by more than seventy columns, semicolumns and pillars taken from different ancient and medieval buildings. The decoration includes remains of frescoes dating from the Middle Ages through the 16th century.



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Founded: 1088
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Dejan Braki (9 months ago)
Throughout our week Puglia tour we saw dozens of beautiful Churches, but this one counts in top 3. It's set in the center of old town Otranto dating back to 11c. A rather simple stone facade hides amazing Tree of Life mosaic spread over the entire Church floor. Another Church highlight is the beautiful wood carved ceiling, as well the skulls and bones Chapel of the Martyrs. After paying hefty entry fees in Lecce Churches, I was pleasantly surprised entry here is free
David naftalis (12 months ago)
Great and impressive old monument with a huge mosaic work...
János Szablya (13 months ago)
Here is a place where you can see how ages ago people learned of the Bible. The mosaics told the story of the tree of life and the division of Heaven and Hell. Having survived the conversion to a Mosque and back most of the frescoes were destroyed... butfor some reason they left the images of Mary... and a few of Christ on the cross.
Georgia Gallou (15 months ago)
The Cattedrale di Otranto combines a Byzantine and Romanesque style. It was built by the Normans. Nearly 800 civilians and clerics were killed by the Turks who had besieged the town. Their bones are arranged inside the chapel. There are impressive frescoes and mosaics. In the basement, there is the crypt with plenty of columns with different styles of capitals and materials. A priest who met spoke Grico!
Strawberry Fields (2 years ago)
Amazing mosaics which are surprisingly well-preserved even though these are still accessible to the public. The ceilings are also a sight to see. Rich in history and detail - made me wish there were more descriptions about the different features of the Cathedràl. Definitely worth the trip to Otranto ?
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