Santa Maria al Bagno

Salento seaside resort (Ionian coast) with mainly rocky coast and a wonderful sandy beach. The special attraction of the place is the presence of the monument called “Quattro Colonne”, the remains of the ancient tower used to defend Salento of pirate attacks.
Santa Maria Al Bagno and the “Quattro colonne”

Santa Maria al Bagno is a beautiful seaside resort in the middle of the fabulous bay that extends from Gallipoli to Santa Caterina (to separate the two places there is only a small promontory “Punta dell’Aspide”). In the Middle Ages it was defended by the superb Torre del Fiume. Today the only remains of the tower are four massive pillars only, called “The Four Columns.” The town was founded as a small fishing village and as a shelter for ships from the stormy sea. In the Middle Ages it was abandoned to the most complete degradation, it was repeatedly plundered by pirates and Saracens. Particular damage was procured by the Venetians after the fall of Gallipoli (1484).

It rises in a setting characterised by alternating recesses and protrusions, sharp points and gentle hills, woods and pine forests. The coast is low and it is comfortable accessing the sea; For beach lovers, just move to the center of the town where there is a beach of fine sand. Near the tower is a source of fresh water, also known by pirates often attacking the area to refuel their water supply. Charles V decided therefore to protect the source erecting the famous tower.

The tower had a truncated pyramidal structure with a square base with pentagonal corner bastions and a height of 16 meters. At the top there was a string course with brackets. The central part collapsed, probably not long after its construction, either after enemy attacks or telluric phenomena. Today there are four corner bastions: that’s why the tower is also called the “four columns”.


Sancta Maria de Balneo or Sancta Maria ad Balneum (how it was called before) has been inhabited since ancient times, as evidenced by numerous archaeological findings dating from prehistoric times (arrowheads, blades, shards of pottery ..) found in the “Grotta del Fico “. Probably developed initially as a small fishing village, inhabited later by Messapi and Romans. To Messapian are attributable the numerous rock-cut tombs, discovered in the hills just outside the town. In 272 BC Santa Maria fell, like the rest of the Salento, under the control of the Romans, who constructed their port “Nauna Emporium”, and buildings with hot tubs for bathing. In the twelfth century Santa Maria was the home of the Teutonic Knights.

For this reason the town was an important stopping place for pilgrims coming from the famous crusades. In the Middle Ages after numerous repeated attacks and looting by pirates and Saracens, it was progressively abandoned. The Saracens, unfortunately, destroyed buildings, the church, the thermal baths and pools. Even the Venetians after the fall of Gallipoli in 1484, raged on the town, so the surviving inhabitants took refuge in the inland villages. As anticipated, in the 16th century, Charles V, in the context of coastal defence program, built the Torre del Fiume di Galatena, to protect the sources of fresh water of Santa Maria (source of supply for the dreaded pirates).

After centuries of complete abandonment Santa Maria al Bagno, a few hundred meters from the sea, began to rise and shine, mostly used as summer residences by the noble families. The real rebuilding begun only at the end of the nineteenth century, by some citizens from the nearby Nardò (of which it was a fraction), who decided to equip it as a seaside and holiday resort. To be remembered, in the humanitarian field: between 1943 and 1947, the Allied army, decided to host in Santa Maria al Bagno and in its vicinity, over one hundred thousand Jews who had survived the Nazi death camps and were traveling to the nascent state of Israel. Some buildings on site, were “converted” to accommodate the new requirements, then in a house in the square (now Piccadilly Bar) was housed the synagogue. Among the many guests, were also the names of Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir and Dov Shilansky. For the great hospitality shown, January 27, 2005, the President of the Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi has rightly given to the city of Nardò, the Gold Medal of Civil Merit.

As evidence of that period are still visible three remaining murals created by some prisoners, and particularly by Zivi Miller. This has inspired the creation of the Museum of Memory and Hospitality, which was inaugurated January 14, 2009, where in addition to the murals all the historical material of the period coming from the historical archives of the APM – Association Pro Murals Ebrici of Santa Maria al Bagno and the City of Nardo, with adjoining library, newspaper library and visual, and multimedia documentation can be found. Recently the town is firmly inhabited, even in winter.



by car

Arrive at Bari through the motorway A14 (Adriatica), if you come from North, otherwise through the Naples – Bari. here continue to Brindisi-Lecce. Once in Lecce take the ring road and the exit for Gallipoli. On the Lecce-Gallipoli you will find the exit for Santa Maria al Bagno.

by train

Santa Maria al Bagno is reached along the Adriatic (Milan – Bologna – Pescara) or through the Rome – Caserta. Once in Lecce FSE bus can be used that will take you up to Santa Maria al Bagno. (For more information 

by plane

You can reach Santa Maria al Bagno, with a stopover in Brindisi where you can choose to wait for the terminal that connects the airport to the center of Lecce or rent a car, if you choose the first option you can go to Santa Maria al Bagno using FSE bus.