Salento Torre dell’Orso is a seaside resort in Salento’s Marina di Melendugno, in the province of Lecce. Known for the extensive beach of fine silver sand, Torre dell’Orso boasts a particularly pristine sea due to the currents of the Strait of Otranto. Thanks to this characteristic, this location is enlivened by many tourists during the summer and is a frequent recipient of the European Blue Flag (also in 2020) award for the transparency and cleanliness of the sea.
The name derives from the presence along the coast of a 16th-century tower once used to spot Turkish ships headed towards Salento. Some theories suggest the appellation refers rather to the monk seal. More probably is that it traces back to Urso, the surname of the likely owner of the Agro area in antiquity. An alternative interpretation comes from there being coastal towers named after saints, hence its designation could have been Torre di Sant’Orsola, from which came Torre dell’Orso. Yet another theory on the name comes from the fact that beneath the tower is a rock representing the profile of a bear (“orso” in Italian). When facing the beach, with the tower to your left, there is a rocky formation depicting the profile of a bear with well-defined snout and ears. Over the decades, erosion has modified its form but it can still be clearly made out (Source Wikipedia).
Home to important archaeological excavations, the tourist centre takes on great importance during the summer period. Of note here are the 16th-century watchtower, the ruins of the castle overlooking the sea, the 17th-century Madonna di Roca sanctuary and the two Poesia caves (named from the Greek word for fresh water spring), better known as the Grotte della Poesia. The latter, in particular, with a distance of 60 metres between the two, are karst caves in which the roofs have collapsed; the sea water floods each through a canal that can be explored by swimming or in a small boat. The largest of the two has a somewhat elliptical layout with axes extending around 30 and 18 metres, located about thirty metres from the open sea. The smaller of the two—the Poesia Piccola—has axes of about 15 and 9 metres and is separated from the open sea by around 70 metres as the crow flies. Its considerable importance in the archaeological field is linked to the 1983 discovery, thanks to the archaeologist Cosimo Pagliara, of Messapic inscriptions (along with some in Latin and Greek) on its walls, from which it was possible establish that the cave was formerly a place of worship dedicated to the god Taotor (also spelt Tator, Teotor or Tootor). To the north of the archaeological area is the town inhabited by 22 residents (as of 2001), also known as Roca Li Posti, much frequented by holidaymakers during the summer (source: Wikipedia).
Recent studies have found that the bay once constituted the port of the ancient sanctuary town of Roca, and was a fundamental stopover for sailors heading to or coming from the other side of the Adriatic. In particular, the route connecting the bay of the Valle dell’Orso (40°18′53.46″N 19°22′43.97″E) in Albania and the bay of the Torre dell’Orso (40°16′17.53″N 18°25′51.6″E) is the shortest route (about 80 kilometres) that seafarers can accomplish.
In 44 BC, Augustus—who was in Apollonia to study Greek letters—received news of Caesar’s murder and, fearing unrest in the port of Brindisi, likely followed this route to reach safety in the city of Lupiae before heading to Rome.
The existence of this route having been proven, it seems natural that Virgil had these locations (and not Porto Badisco or Santa Maria di Leuca, as thought by subsequent commentators) in mind when describing Aeneas’ landing in Salento, having departed from the Acroceraunian mountains in Albania, given that the beaches offer the shortest distance.