Salento boasts a glorious and most ancient tradition in handicraft, this tradition has resisted the advent of machines, technologies and today, with their works, are an authentic heritage all over the region: ceramics terracotta that date back to the third millennium B.C. Among other local traditions papermache, terracotta, sculptures and objects made of local stone, reeds weaving, and embroidery. The artistic wealth continues in wrought iron, wood working, stonecutters and in the work of wicker.
All the Christmas cribs of Salento are made with papier-mâché puppets. The historic center of Lecce is full of workshops, where it is common to see the "masters" at work, intent on achieving those small and large puppets paper and rags finely assembled that become refined ornaments or populate the paths around the manger during the Christmas season. The local stone (in dialect leccisu) is, however, a limestone typical of the Salento peninsula that naturally emerges from the ground and that, with the passing of time, increases its hardness assuming an amber color, initially responding to a range that goes from white to pale yellow.
The main quarries of Pietra Leccese are in Maglie, Cursi, Corigliano d'Otranto, Melpignano and Lecce. The stone is very much influenced by atmospheric agents and wet, therefore lots of palaces and churches have been ruined in the centuries and most of them have been restored. In fact in the past, the sculptors protected the stone with milk; the blocks of stone were dipped into milk which seeped into the rock and created a waterproof layer. This kept it unchanged.
Another material used by artisans to make plates, glasses and any other ornament is “terracotta”, one of the oldest craftmade artistic tradition. It was already used by the Messapians, as we see from the “trozzelle” and the pots found out in the area around Otranto. During the years, earthenware has grown into a real art, and today it produces more and more complex items, both simple and beautifully decorated. These handmade products are modelled out of clay and water (in fact Salento is a very clayey ground) and then dried in the sunshine. Once dried, they are put in the oven at different temperatures and clay becomes ceramics. The last step is the decoration, an operation which requires patience and precision. But our artisans are masters of that. The output includes kitchenware, whistles, vases, little statues for Christmas and other souvenirs of Salento. The production of terracotta whistles boasts a long tradition in Rutigliano. These items are small, colourful and quirkily shaped, the playful and symbolic value of which has its origin in the local uses and customs. The production of ceramics in Puglia is ancient yet still thriving, also thanks to the rich quarries of red clay found in this territory. The hub of ceramics production is Grottaglie, in the province of Taranto. In the heart of this characteristic city, behind the medieval castle, lies a centuries-old quarter of ceramicists who, having excavated their workshops and kilns in the rock, developed their trade by following age-old working methods.