Masseria Pilano is a 17th-century Puglian farmhouse set in a sweeping plain on the edge of the Murgia plateau, at 1,115 feet above sea level in the heart of Terra delle Gravine regional natural park. The 580-acre farm lies in the countryside between the towns of Crispiano and Martina Franca, in Taranto province. The hillside in the background marks the historical boundary between the municipalities of Martina and Taranto. Roberto of Anjou, Prince of Taranto, established it on 15 April 1359 when he awarded Martina generous lands to complement those in the two-mile district granted by his father, Philip I, in 1317. When the catasto onciario tax register was introduced in the mid 18th century, the farmlands were divided between Martina and Taranto, as the provisional register from 1812–1822 shows. From 1919, though, when Crispiano municipality was established, its territory included all the lands on the Taranto side of the old Taranto-Martina border.

The name Pilano is actually quite recent. The farmhouse was first mentioned in a notarial deed of 9 September 1627; before that, its lands were named after Lepore Gorge, which runs through them. In 1748, according to Taranto tax register, Pilano farm was owned by Francesco Paolo Motolese. It spanned 40 tomoli (about 67 acres) of farmable arable land, plus additional land in Martina’s territory and trullo houses, the main building being erected later by his son Domenico in 1785. The registered income was 50 ducats.

The farm buildings, part manor house and part utility buildings, sprang up at different times. The oldest core certainly comprises the trulli laid out at right angles on two sides of the present walled inner courtyard. They are all interconnected, with a unified double-pitched roof, and were originally used as the farmer’s dwelling, for storage and to shelter the animals; they date from the 17th–18th centuries. In 1785, Domenico Motolese built the two-storey farmhouse against the existing structures. It looks on to the courtyard with access through a grand archway from the same period. The house’s entrance door in richly ornate pure Rococo style, inscribed ANNO DOMINI 1785, is of great architectural interest. Standing proud next to the courtyard well, it was the only way into the house until the mid 20th century, when a new doorway was made for the upper floor. Outside the courtyard on the south side is a sizeable trullo hay barn built in 1845, as the inscription over the archway shows (ANNO DOMINI 1845). The interior is a 320-sq-ft space (including “anteroom”) with a conical stone ceiling or “candela” supported on three broad arches and hefty dry stone walls. It is certainly one of the rare few surviving trullo buildings of this size in the entire Murgia area.

Right next to the main body of the farm stand other stone buildings, including trullo barns, stables and storerooms constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The utility spaces include the generous open space in front of the buildings, a large paved farmyard with a date inscription: a roof tile at its centre bears a cross and the inscription M.A.1890, for Alberico Motolese, who had it laid out that year. Paolo Motolese, Alberico’s son, gave the farmhouse to his daughter Rita as a dowry in the mid 20th century. The farm is now owned by the Palmisano brothers, lifelong Pilano residents, where their parents, Vito Palmisano, an accountant in Crispiano, and Luisa Ferrara, Rita Motolese’s daughter, a teacher from Martina Franca, set up their family home after marrying. The farmhouse is home all year round to Pierpaolo Palmisano, who is always glad to welcome guests and visitors from all over the world.

Masseria Pilano is a working farm, rearing Italian Friesian dairy cows, Puglian Podolica grey cows, and splendid Murgese horses. The farm land includes Mediterranean maquis woods (full of English oaks, turkey oaks, holm oaks, strawberry trees, heather and broom) where boars, hares, porcupines, foxes and badgers wander freely among pheasants, thrushes, woodcocks and many other bird species. The farm is a founder member of the Le Cento Masserie consortium and an integral part of the San Paolo hunting organisation. In spring 2007, Masseria Pilano also became an agritourism, offering bed & breakfast accommodation in its charming old buildings converted from the typical 17th-century stables and characteristic trullo houses that surround the farmhouse.

A flank of Monte Pilano contains a fascinating cave, the Grotta di Pilano, officially discovered in 1952 but known since the 18th century. The part before the main cave is a large, deep, 5-metre-high shelter cave; from here, an awkward passage leads inside to three caverns with many lateral branches. A major and significant prehistoric deposit has been found in the cave complex. It comprised pieces of pottery made from blackish clay, bone fragments (meal leftovers) from various animals now extinct in the Murgia area, and evidence of Old Stone Age bone working, such as flints, awls, chisels, smoothing tools, knives and spearheads. All the items have now been classified by a phalanx of academics.

Historical research by Prof. Giovanni Liuzzi