Ostuni is a city and a comune located in the Puglia region of Italy, just 8 km away from the Adriatic Sea. The city is known as ”La Città Bianca” which means ”The White City” because of the whitewashed exterior of the buildings that shines from afar. The old town of Ostuni has been inhabited since the Stone Age. It is reputed to have been established by a pre-classic tribe known as Messapii and was nearly destroyed during the Punic Wars but was rebuilt by the Romans.
The origin of the name ”Ostuni” is not clear but is thought to have come from the Greek word ”Astu-neon” which means ”new town”.
The Old Town is Ostuni’s citadel built on top of a hill and still fortified by the historic walls.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city was sacked and became part of the Norman County of Lecce. The Normans built their medieval town around the summit of the hill, 229 meters above sea level, and city walls with four gates. For about 160 years, the town was part of the Principality of Taranto and from 1507 it was passed to Isabella of Aragon, wife of the Duke of Milan. Under her rule, Ostuni thrived during the Italian Renaissance. After her death, it was passed to her daughter Bona Sforza as a dowry. She built towers along the shoreline as protection against attacks. Some of these towers are still extant.
Because of the streams of invasions, the medieval walled city was constructed without a proper plan. Buildings were built on top of each other, with the archways supporting the houses they connect, to make up for the lack of strong foundations. But the narrow cobbled streets, staircases, and maze-like alleyways add to the charm of Ostuni.
In the 17th century, a deadly plague killed hundreds of thousands of people in Puglia and only a few villages survived. The inhabitants of Ostuni whitewashed each house to take advantage of the antibacterial qualities of limestone and it worked since Ostuni was among the few villages that survived the plague. Since then, the white paint has been associated with the old town of Ostuni. The stark contrast between the white paint and the sun makes Ostuni a picturesque city and it attracts tourists. The government even encourages people to repaint the exteriors with limestone every two years and covers half the cost.