History of the

Masseria


The Masseria Pagani was built between the 15th and the 17th century, as a complex of farm buildings and agricultural dwellings, and was originally set within an estate of 300 acres. The original complex, which is still visible, is a building characterized by a single flight outside staircase leading to a fortified terrace which used to be a refuge against the attacks from brigands and Saracen, with two defensive openings, called machicolations, above the entrance doors.
In the 19th century new elements were added to the original complex: courtyards, gardens, a tiny church, stables, a porch, a barn with hayloft, an oven which still evokes memories of the delicious traditional bread and biscuits cooked there over the centuries, a “palmento” where grapes were pressed and the winemaking process began in large stone-carved tanks. And also a “merce” where cheese was produced and aged, a pigeon tower which was used as a shelter for messenger pigeons and for the production of guano, an excellent fertiliser, and a dry-stone wall featuring some intriguing anti-wolf devices.

Over the years the Masseria has been the residence of the Pagano family, who were Princes of Avetrana, and of the Marquis De Noha, one of whom was a Papal valet. In the 19th century, the estate became the property of Pietro Villani, a ENT specialist and godfather of Francesco Conversano; the latter became his trusted assistant and purchased the property in the 1950s. The famous tenor Tito Schipa, a good friend of Villani’s, was a regular guest at the Masseria during the summer holidays. During World War II thousands of Jews, escaping from the Nazi roundups, were hidden and sheltered at the Masseria (as well as in other places in Nardò, and in the nearby coastal villages of Santa Caterina and Santa Maria al Bagno); it is for this reason that the town of Nardò was awarded a Gold Medal for Civilian Merit by the President of the Italian Republic, Signor Ciampi, in 2005.