The birth of ‘Alimini Lakes’ dates back to remote ages. According to some geologists even back to the Mesozoic. Subsequently to this layer, other ages did the rest to transform the area (Miocene, Pliocene). Further transformations of the earth’s crust were in the Pleistocene, which caused a gradual lowering of the hinterland towards the Adriatic sea. This series of tectonic elements has determined the present appearance of the basins.
In the Quaternary period, Fontanelle was a lake independent from the Great Alimini Lake, and its waters were salty until it became more sweet due to mixing with rainwater and spring water. This created the ideal conditions for the flourishing of the flora and fauna of the lake. Over 150.00 years ago already mankind was living here close to the lakes. In fact, thanks to numerous discoveries, it was discovered that this land was inhabited by humans since its origins.
The researches of the brothers Piccinno, performed researches in 1978 and have provided useful information about the prehistoric settlement. They found material assignable to the period from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age. The first certain information about the lakes dates back to 1219 when Emperor Federico II, with an official act, assigned it to the Archbishop Mensa of the hydruntina town, a third of it. In the Middle Ages the area was flourishing with towns, villages, hamlets and convents of Basilian monks, but the Turkish invasion in 1480 caused the abandonment of this beautiful area of Salento. In fact, the settlers took refuge in neighbouring villages, protected by walls and fortified castles. In 1886, following the abolition of ecclesiastical property, the third part of the lakes, owned by the Archbishop’s Mensa, went to the State.
Even the remaining two thirds, were absorbed by the state, which relied on water allocation in the private exclusive rights for fishing, for a maximum of 99 years. In 1800 the countryside surrounding the lakes was desolate and devoid of vegetation. There were only a few farms, some of which were uninhabited for most of the years, due to noxious air produced from the marshes. In this area, the risk of contracting malaria was very high in summer, when the wetlands dried up. The brave peasants, used to go in their fields during the winter for plowing and sowing and then coming back at the time of harvesting and threshing. The fear of contagion was always present, which is why they tried to get the job done as quickly as possible. In some periods of the year, with little gain, the land surrounding the reservoirs was used to graze cattle.
In 1936, the endemic malaria in areas close to Otranto disappeared altogether. The foundations of the appropriation for farming were laid, with a result of stabilisation for the peasant population. The transformation of the landscape that ensued was clear. In addition, construction of irrigation systems, between 1954 and 1963 allowed the spread of different kinds of production more profitable for small farmers. The existing paths were set, and created new ones.