Tim, the owner of our Casa Esmeralda, arrived promptly at 4:00 to give us an orientation tour of the town. First he walked us around the “new” part. Developed in the 18th and 19th century, the newer section has incorporated the architectural style of the older part, but with straighter streets. The houses and steps up to the houses were all white. I felt I was in Greece rather than Italy.
After showing us a couple of his favorite restaurants in this neighborhood, Tim led us around the outer edge of town, fortified by ancient stone walls. This vantage point offered a dramatic and sweeping vista onto the valley below. We learned this entire area had been home to a prehistoric population 50,000 years ago.
Then came the crowning jewel of this enchanting city: the atmospheric centro storico — the old historic center. By comparison, this part of town was really old. It had been established by the Greeks, which explains its Cycladic-style architecture. It was in the first century, B.C.E. that the Greeks gave this place its name. Ironically, they christened this old part of town astu-neon — “new city” — now pronounced Ostuni.
Although this area of town was anything but new, it was pristine. I saw little peeling paint and few crumbling facades, although I admit I find the delicate decay that I see in some parts of Italy quite enchanting. These walls, however, were well kept.
We followed Tim into a tangle of labyrinthine paths, curling alleys of dazzling white, punctuated by doors and windows in colors of Easter eggs and Greek-blue. Marshmallow stairways melted around corners, leading us up and down. Graceful arches curved overhead, shadowing the sun. I was breathless — and not from the walk.
Tim led us down one tucked-away alley strewn with plump plastic beanbag seats in lime green. “This is one of the happening bars,” he explained. Techno music was already wafting from the darkened interior, dimly lit by pinpoints of light. We walked in to get a better look. This would be a cool place to spend an evening. But right now, there was too much to see outside.