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THE UNDERGROUND OIL MILL

Did you know that there is a Salento hidden beneath Salento? It is an underground network of ancient manmade monuments, little known, hard to find, but amazingly beautiful. It includes oil mills, carved into the rock, where the olives were pressed and turned into oil every year from November to May, under the guidance of a nachiro, (from the Greek naùkleros master and commander of ships), who had a range of roles ranging from the strictest management of the trappitari (mill staff) to the techniques of olive pressing.

Given the economic importance of olive oil, the trappito (the mill) became a kind of sacred place, which the trappitari could only get away from to go home during major holidays. The meals were very frugal, typically legumes, cooked in the mill.    

Trappitu Mulino a Vento

Some oil mills have been turned into interactive olive oil museums, with photos and videos that recall the historical memory like the frantoio ipogeo (the underground mill) Mulino a Vento. The underground mill is located along the ancient route connecting Cerfignano and Otranto and dates back to 1688. It has a large central circular space featuring different elements including presses, tanks, blocks of stone and grinders. The oil was produced by the grinding of the olives with millstones, turned by a donkey. The name Mulino a vento is probably linked to turbines, which helped the donkey to press the olives. In 2008 the museum was fitted with lighting, visual and sound equipment to enable us to educate and involve visitors in activities like the showing of a short film made by Edoardo Winspeare.

The Legend of Striare

Legend has it that from the time when the mill was abandoned it became the permanent home of the ‘strìare’. By day anyone travelling the road along the ‘trappitu’ that turned their gaze towards the entrance, received a slap without realizing, and to avoid attack people passed by with their heads down. The strìare used to meet every evening under a huge walnut tree that grew near the ‘trappitu’. Some of them spent the whole night dancing and singing in local dialect: “A sutta ll’acqua and sutta jentu u … A sutta u Walnut de mulinu to jentu” (“under the water and under the wind, under the Mulino windmill”). Anyone who walked the streets at night, was forced by the ‘strìare’ to sing and dance with them until they dropped, and to sing with them: “balla balla niri e balla forte, ci scappi de sta danza nu ttorni cchiui de notte!” (“Dance dance dance dark and strong, if you escape this room, never return at night again”) When victims were freed they were never to turn around or look back at the risk of being recaptured and forced to sing and dance again with the witches. “

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