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  • Janice Marie Beccaria

The pottery spot

Sunday the 19th of May I had the pleasure of welcoming the Circolo Berkeley to Cutrofiano, the town where my husband was born and raised, and where I lived for over 25 years.

Cutrofiano is a town of over 8,000 people that probably existed in Roman times as a pagus, a rural subdivision, and was destroyed a week before Otranto was invaded on 11 August 1480.

The visit started off with an impromptu glimpse inside the Scuderie del Palazzo Filomarini, the old, but renovated stables that were part of the residence of Marianna Filomarini, the last of the Filomarini family, who died in 1845. The building complex is known as ‘Palazzo della Principessa’.  

Alessandra De Filippi, a UniSalento alumna and the person in charge of the Cutrofiano Public Library, was our guide for the morning and immediately revealed one of the building’s secrets – a tower within the stables that dates back to the 15thcentury.

Mayor Luigi (Gigi) Melissano greeted the group warmly and accompanied us to visit Maestro Donato Colì in the family’s original workshop in the centro storico. Il Maestro, 85, recounted his first experiences as a potter in that very spot at the young age of 7 and also how they created the huge pots essential for storing food and liquids.  We were able to step inside the giant kiln where the renowned Colì family used to fire their pottery. This giant ‘fornace’ is from the 1700s. However, in 2007, a kiln from Roman times was uncovered just one kilometer from the old town of Cutrofiano, providing evidence that before Cutrofiano existed as a town in Medieval times, this territory boasted the ancient tradition of pottery making thanks to the abundance of clay, water and wood. The Colì family continues to make pottery in Cutrofiano in modern facilities on the outskirts of town.

Alessandra elaborated on the theme of pottery and daily life throughout the ages once we entered the Ceramics Museum, back in the main square of Cutrofiano.  Our young guide explained how Cutrofiano potters produced all the items necessary for everyday life and work starting back in Medieval times. These items range from a huge washtub to a beehive smoker to calm the bees while extracting honeycomb - everything made of clay. It is worth noting that although most of the artefacts are tools and houseware items used in daily life, the potters expressed their creativity in the lovely decorations that embellish the simplest of objects.

The Museum owes its existence to the hard work, dedication and insatiable curiosity of Totò Matteo, the legendary librarian of Cutrofiano. Not only did Totò create a library where everyone, children and adults alike, were welcome to browse through the shelves, get help with their homework, read the newspapers and discuss the events of the day, but he also collected pottery from the territory during his free time. Mr. Matteo encouraged people to bring in old pottery that they had at home or in the countryside so he could study the details and attempt to trace the origins. Little by little, Totò Matteo collected more and more artefacts and became known as an authority on the local area.  The museum opened in 1985 and has undergone major renovations.

Cutrofiano is also very proud of its public library which is located on the ground floor, while the museum is on the first floor of the building that used to be the town hall. The library also has a section in English, thanks to donations, also from members of the Circolo Berkeley.

34° Fuso, a non-profit organization that focuses on encouraging and promoting cultural activities in this area, runs the library and the museum. The activities range from storytelling for young readers to weekly meetings of the Tessitrici (weavers) as well as yoga for children and English for mature learners and many more events and activities.

The visit to Cutrofiano also included a well-deserved lunch at Pesce Fritto e Baccalà, a restaurant tucked away in a corner near the Chiesa Madre, specializing in fish and run by Stefania and Giusy Corrado. Stefania and Giusy are part of a family tradition of unique eateries in Cutrofiano.

In short, I feel lucky to live in an area where we are surrounded not only by the sea, but also by history, art, wine and wonderful food as well as fascinating people!


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