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The olive press at Muro Leccese, Apulia

Of all the archaeological discoveries I’ve chanced to see in recent years, up there with the best is to be found on the walls of a late medieval olive press in Apulia at Muro Leccese.

An Ottoman Galley on the wall of the Olive Press

Muro Leccese is south of Lecce in the Salento. It lies in the heart of forests of old olives. Paul Arthur, professor at the University of Salento at Lecce has diligently excavated all parts of this quintessential late medieval planned town. The excavations are now published in a handsome report by Paul, Brunella Bruno and Stefania Alfarano (Archeologia Urbana a Borgo Terra Muro Leccese I, Insegna del Giglio [Florence], 43 euros). It's a model monograph for a model town. Elegant trenches have been drawn up just as elegantly with evocative photographs. The accompanying finds, including Ottoman Iznik sherds, can be readily related to the dwellings and their storage silos in this tightly arranged walled town. It simply feels good to handle as a report and reads as well.

Paul Arthur's latest book

Reconstruction of Late Medieval Muro Leccese

Muro Leccese possesses not only a museum made by Paul and his enterprising team, it also contains the olive press. Here, below modern plaster, Paul discovered that the workers not only pressed oil but preserved their terrifying memories of the battle of Lepanto on the dark walls. The depiction is as vivid as any subsequent oil painting. The brutal naval battle occurred on the 7th October 1571 (just before the olive harvest). In the Gulf of Patras not so far from the Salento tthe Holy League, comprising forces from the Spanish and Venetian Empires, savagely halted the Ottomans and threat to Christendom.

The battle of Lepanto

Ask in the museum at Muro Leccese to see this great work of art: it is as matchless as the first oil from the Salento and surely one of Italy’s great treasures.

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