History and Prehistory of Vieste: A Journey Through Time

Homo Sapiens arrives on the Gargano

Inhabited since ancient times, the Gargano area stands out for its archaeological traces which tell stories of past eras, such as those of the Paglicci cave, in Rignano Garganico, one of the most important Paleolithic sites in Europe with findings dating back over 20000 years ago, when theHomo Sapiens from Africa had settled in the area, cohabiting for some time with Neanderthal Homo.

By Agn2020 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89564245 – Grotta Paglicci

Thanks to the mild climate, the numerous sources of drinking water and the abundant natural resources, the area of ​​Vieste was also a privileged place for prehistoric human settlements.

Prehistoric Vieste, the Flint Mine and the Dolmen of Molinella

In the Stone Age, flint played a crucial role in the daily life of prehistoric societies. This rock was the material of choice for making tools and weapons due to its ability to chip in predictable ways, allowing for the creation of weapons and tools for hunting, woodworking, and animal hides.


In this sense, one of the most important archaeological sites in Vieste is the Defensola mine, discovered in 1981 by some Viestani scholars.
Located about three kilometers from the town centre, this flint mine is considered one of the largest and oldest in Europe. The excavations revealed a complex system of tunnels and Neolithic artefacts, showing how a sophisticated mining activity already existed at that time, 7000 years ago.

Not far away, on a hill in the Molinella area, the remains of a village of huts dating back to the Bronze Age were found. The settlement was protected by an imposing defensive wall, while the piling holes of the huts were mainly observable. On the top of the relief there was a dolmen, similar to those found in other places in the Gargano and north of Bari.
The Dolmen of Moline, unfortunately destroyed, represented a unique example of megalithic architecture in northern Puglia, dated between the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age. Finds near the site include pottery and a bronze sword.
In a cave in the area, the Drisiglia cave, many lithic artefacts obtained from the processing of flint were found: arrowheads, knives and tools for working leather, axes.

In the coastal area between Vieste and Peschici, thanks also to the presence of fresh water sources and natural caves, human settlements during the Bronze Age were widespread, with findings of Mycenaean ceramic fragments, evidence of intense maritime traffic along these coasts since ancient times.

Sanctuary of the Venus of Uria, the Daunians and the Hellenic Vieste

The myth of Diomedes, valiant hero of the Trojan War, is a tangible sign of the Greek landings and colonies founded along the coasts of Gargano and in other regions during that period.
In fact, the king of Argos, after having shone on the battlefield, returned to his hometown at the end of the Trojan War, but due to a spell by Aphrodite he was not recognized by his own relatives. He therefore decided to return to the sea, thus becoming a pioneer in the diffusion of Hellenic culture throughout the entire Mediterranean Sea. Diomedes, having arrived in the Daunia region, after having created the Sub-Apennines and the Gargano with enormous blocks of stone coming from the fortress of Pergamum, personally created islands by throwing three boulders into the sea, brought with him from Troy, which gave rise to San Domino, San Nicola and Capraia. According to the myth, he married Evippe, daughter of the king of Daunia, a symbolic act that represents the coexistence between the Greeks and the Japygi, a people originally from Illyria (Balkans) who settled in Puglia as early as the 1st millennium BC.
The Japigi were divided into three tribes: the Daunians, to the north, the Peuceti and the Messapians to the south.
The cult of the Venus Sosandra, which has its roots in the Athenian colonization of Vieste, was central to the spiritual life of the city. This cult is well documented through inscriptions found in the Sanctuary cave of Venus Sosandra on the islet of Sant'Eufemia, where the Vieste lighthouse.

The cult of Aphrodite Sosandra (Savior) was venerated mainly on the Acropolis of Athens and in the ancient "Uria Garganica", which many identify with today's Vieste. It is believed that the frequent maritime and commercial contacts between the Gargano and Athens in the Hellenistic age favored the adoption of this form of worship in a maritime center such as Vieste, where a patron deity of sailors and fishermen would have been particularly venerated.
The city of Uria had great influence during the pre-Roman era, the territory acquired sufficient autonomy to mint its own money: coins bearing the Greek inscription YPIA or YPIATΩN have been found.

The Tombs of the Elite and Roman Vieste

The ancients considered funerals an essential duty and had complex rituals to honor the deceased, including the laying of a coin for passage into the afterlife. It is precisely the finds and the structure of the tombs present that give us precious clues about the past of Vieste and its inhabitants.

In 1982, in Vieste, during works on new buildings, an ancient necropolis was discovered on the slope of the Scialara cliff not far from Castle and close to the famous beach of  Pizzomunno. The necropolis of Ripe Castello, used in the early Hellenistic age between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, contained tombs with varied grave goods, weapons, Greek-Italic amphorae and Greek-style vases. Gnathia.

In 1987, during excavations in Viale XXIV Maggio, an elite tomb dating back to the XNUMXnd century BC, a period of the late Roman Republic, was discovered. This finding, combined with other data from nineteenth-century finds, suggests that the area between Viale XXIV Maggio and Corso Fazzini was one of the main road axes of the town at the time. In this context, a residential complex with an annexed spa from the late Republican era was also brought to light.

In July 2006, during the construction of a fire pit under the courtyard of the Town Hall of Vieste, a large tomb used between the XNUMXrd and XNUMXnd centuries BC was discovered.
Numerous funerary objects were found in the tomb, although it is difficult to associate them with individuals, except for those at the most superficial level. These finds include an achromatic lagynos, a red-painted lekythos, and other objects that date the burial to the mid-2nd century BC. Notably, this burial shows a change in the position of the body from the traditional crouched position typical of the Apulian world.

Other objects found include weapons, mirrors, and cosmetic items, indicating the presence of individuals of both sexes. The tomb also revealed valuable objects such as a rock crystal seal, suggesting an elite social status. Interesting is the discovery of votive objects such as terracotta doves, connected to the cult of Aphrodite.
The finds are kept inside the Michele Petrone Archaeological Museum.
In another nearby excavation, traces of houses were found which confirm the local custom of not separating burial areas from residential ones.

The imperial age, the campaigns and the arrival of Christianity

The evolution of settlements in Puglia during the imperial age highlights a tendency towards the progressive abandonment of urban centers in favor of the countryside, a phenomenon that was accentuated until late antiquity (4th-5th century AD). In particular, the territory of Vieste follows this trend with the transition from small-medium sized rural settlements to large estates with villas. One of the most significant examples is the archaeological site of Santa Maria de Merino, which houses the remains of a Roman villa from the imperial age. A short distance away stands the Marian Sanctuary, perhaps grafted onto a temple dedicated to Demeter. According to some, Merinum would be nothing other than "the Navy" , of Vecchia Vieste (Uria).

Nearby, the Fioravanti area preserves the remains of another Roman villa from a similar period. These rural settlements are often associated with large early Christian necropolises, including those of S. Nicola di Mira  , in correspondence with the ancient Avian port, and the La Salata Necropolis  in Merinum, one of the most evocative of the Mediterranean.

Experienced today

With the advent of Christianity, Vieste saw a partial integration of the new faith with pre-existing local stories and myths. This process of cultural syncretism manifested itself in the way in which elements of Christian religiosity were fused with indigenous beliefs, influencing the religious practices and daily lives of local communities.
With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Vieste and the Gargano underwent the influence of various peoples and cultures, including the Byzantines, the Lombards, the Swabians, the Angevins and the Bourbons. These successive dominations not only brought new architectural and artistic influences, which still survive today, but also new administrative and social systems that modified the structure of local society.
This complex layering of influences and dominations has made the history of Vieste particularly rich and varied, as demonstrated by the variety of archaeological finds and the multiple cultural traditions that continue to define the city's identity to the present day.

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