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It is beautifully situated on the east coast of the peninsula. The castle was erected by Alfonso I of Aragon; the cathedral, consecrated in 1088, has a rose window and side portal of 1481. The interior, a basilica with nave and two aisles, contains columns said to come from a temple of Minerva and a fine mosaic pavement of 1166, with interesting representations of the months, Old Testament subjects, etc. It has a crypt supported by forty-two marble columns. The church of S. Pietro has Byzantine frescoes. The harbour is small and has little trade.
Otranto occupies the site of the ancient Hydrus or Hydruntum, a town of Greek origin. In Roman times it was less important than Brundisium as a point of embarkation for the East, though the distance to Apollonia was less than from Brundusium. It remained in the hands of the Byzantine emperors until it was taken by Robert Guiscard in 1068.
In 1480, the Turkish fleet landed nearby and took the city and its fort. The Pope called for a Holy War, with a massive force built up by Ferdinand I of Naples, among them notably troops of Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, despite frequent Italian quarreling at the time. The Neapolitan force met with the Turks in 1481, thoroughly annihilating them. However, in the two battles, the city was utterly destroyed, and has never since recovered its importance. About 30 miles southeast lies the promontory of S. Maria di Leuca (so called since ancient times from its white cliffs), the southeastern extremity of Italy, the ancient Promontorium lapygium or Sallentinum. The district between this promontory and Otranto is thickly populated, and very fertile.
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