Ancient history and origins

In ancient times Gallipoli was called "Anxa", then later "Callipolis". Historically we can say that Gallipoli was conquered by the Romans in 265 BC, and that if was on the route called the "Via Traiana", a trade route to the Balkans that the Romans developed with port activities, before transforming it into a military centre, and subsequently into a “Municipium”.

As the Roman empire crumbled Gallipoli was sacked by the Vandals and by Totila (died in 552 AD) in 450. The period of the barbaric invasions was one of the hardest for Gallipoli.

Byzantines and Normans in Gallipoli

Soon after, the city was conquered by the Byzantines, who, by 500 AD, ruled the whole of southern Italy. In 542 AD Gallipoli was rebuilt by the Byzantines, who created fortifications for the city and used it as port for berthing their fleet - thus Gallipoli became a cornerstone of the Ionian Sea.

The Byzantine era lasted several hundred years, until the 11th century when Gallipoli was occupied by the Normans. In the fights between the Swabians and Angioini it remained faithful to the ancient Lords but, after the defeat of Conradin of Swabia (1254-1268) it suffered a siege (1268-1269) by Carlo of Anjou (1226-1285).

From the Middle Ages to today

In 1484, the Venetians sieged Gallipoli, which was forced to surrender. The following year it returned to possession of the Aragonese and in 1501 it was again sieged, this time by the Spaniards, and again in 1528 by the French.

The Aragonese domination, followed by the Angevin, enabled Gallipoli to expanded economically during the period thanks to the continuously growing port traffic.

Ferdinando I of Borbone (1751-1825) started the construction of the current port after it became part of the Kingdom of Naples. Over the subsequent centuries the importance of Gallipoli continued to grow, both because of its active port and for its merchant class that traded oil for lamps, with Gallipoli the most important Mediterranean olive oil trade centre.

With the unity of Italy in 1861 Gallipoli became the capital of the district.

Origins of the name Gallipoli

The history of Gallipoli begins with its name, which has been the subject of many discussions among scholars since Pliny the Elder called it "Anxa" [1]. The meaning of "Anxa" was explained by Prof. G. Semeraro, who observed that the name was of Messapic origin:

"[…] The Messapic 'Anxa' indicates the extended part of the end of a promontory overhanging the sea (…) the meaning is 'to the rampart ' […]" [2].

The questions about the name arise due to the fact that Gallipoli was a Greek city, which, in Roman times, was called "Anxa" ("Quae nunc est Anxa", "which now is called Anxa", said Pliny). In particular,  K. Lomas observes "there are signs of a Greek presence at Otranto (ancient 'Hydruntum') and at Gallipoli (ancient 'Callipolis')" [3].

It is most likely that "Anxa" was the ancient name of the city, then when the Greeks of Taranto arrived they called Anxa "Callipolis", or, etymologically, “the beautiful city”, but the Romans called it by the ancient name "Anxa", as we find in Pliny. The issue was explained very well in the "Records" of a Study Convention about Gallipoli:

"[…] The Greek origin of the city, declared by Pomponius Mela [died 45 AD] when he said ‘Urbs Graia est Callipolis” (‘Gallipoli is a Greek Town’) [4] seemed to contradict Pliny the elder, who called it 'Anxa' […]".

But there is the fact that doubt arose from a misinterpretation of Pliny’s text, who wrote:

"Gallipoli of the Senones, that now is named Anxa."

In fact the Senones did not ever settle ever in these places: "Certainly the Gauls Senones did not ever live here", rightly wrote Filippo Cluverio (1580-1622]. Hence the doubts about the passage by Pliny, so it was thought that the Latin writer referred to another city, and not to Gallipoli.

Modern philology has corrected the text of Pliny, so instead of "Senonum", we must read "Senum" [5]. But to tell the truth, already in the 18th century a great scholar had observed the error. Cristoforo Cellario in the 17th century wrote:

"[…] Pomponius Mela had said already that Gallipoli was a Greek city. Who, indeed, could seriously believe that Gallipoli was a city of the Senones?  And really there is no question, if we read manuscripts carefully. The manuscript reads: 'In that area, in truth, there is ' Senum ', 'Callipolis', which now is called Anxa': where 'Senum', if the reading is right, is the name of a (different) city of Salento […]" [6].

See also Gallipoli for our detailed visitor guide.


1. Pliny, [23-79 AD] (Nat. Hist., III, 100)

2. See G. Semerano, "The Origins of European Culture" Olschki, 1984: 504

3. See K. Lomas, "Rome and the Western Greeks", Routledge, 1993: 21

4. De Situ Orbis ', II, 4, 66

5. See "Atti del Convegno Nazionale", Editrice Tipografica, 1986: 100-101 and note 40

6. See Christophorus Cellarius, “Notitia Orbis Antiqui” , 1703: 573-574