Grottaglie is a small town in Puglia famous for ceramics. The town’s name derives from the age-old workshops that were once dug into soft stone to form grottos (grottaglie – that’s where
the name comes from). In those grottos hundreds of artisans turned clay into pots, jugs, plates, cups, saucers, statues and other works of art. Today you find hundred of ceramic shops in a four-square block area, Quartier dell Ceramiche. It seems most of the propieter names are Fassano, or Di Fassano.
One ceramicist, Mimmo Vestita discovered the floor of a Roman villa and a Byzantine crypt under his driveway when he remodeled his garage. It wasn’t clear to me how the national Italian art and archeological organization might be involved with his spectacular discovery, or if he could possibly be the owner of these treasures. Mimmo did tell me archeologists from Florence had visited his site and had dated the find to the 13-14th Century.
In order to see these remarkably intact wall paintings, you call Mimmo; I believe he shows the discovery June through August. My husband and I visited him on a hot June afternoon. Here we enjoyed his remarkable Mediterranean garden, and collection of some of his 4000 pieces of antique ceramics, before visiting the underground crypt. Inside the crypt we saw a beautiful Saint Barbara, similar but perhaps a bit more animated than the Saint Barbara in Casaranello.
Behind the row of frescoes is a secret room. Mimmo explained it was probably used to hide money and valuables. The Crusaders were known to be bankers who followed their own rules about moneyed wealth– borrowing, lending and making loans,” he said. “This activity threatened and upset the King Charles. Competition, perhaps. Or giving too much power to those supposed to be unpowerful.” Charles the Short was King of Naples and titular King of Jerusalem from 1382-1386.
In addition, inside the crypt is a notable collection of ancient pharmaceutical bottles, beakers, and bowls from the same era. They are on display in the shelves and nooks in the crypt. I must add, that even though the space is called a crypt, we are not sure if people are actually buried there or not. For sure it was a place of worship and gathering; for sure, a hide-away.
Via Francesco Crispi, 63, 74023 Grottaglie TA, Italy