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The site of Lesina was inhabited from prehistoric times and a major study about this time is by N.L .Savino who writes of:
"[...] numerous finds of stone tools such as scrapers and blades, which belong to the Early Neolithic (Stone Age) and prehistoric men exercised agriculture, farming, fishing and hunting here. Also noteworthy are artefacts of the Copper Age, while the Bronze Age in Lesina is represented by numerous vascular findings mainly from the island of San Clemente, located in the Lake. Cusps in bronze (tips of spears or arrows) belonging to the Bronze Age (11th century BC) were found in different areas of the town [...]" .
Lesina in Roman times
With regard to the Roman times, an important source of data is the scholar N. Norcia, who, speaking of the "Lacus Pantanus", wrote:
"[...] At 200 “stadia” [the ancient Roman units of measurement] from the Gargano, Strabo (58-25 BC) described a lake along the beach, after which (it was easy) to navigate to Frentani and Buca, a city at 25 miles. This lake is called ‘Pantano’ ["Bog"] by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD); the name has a Greek etymology, from "Pante", meaning "always", since Lesina is a perennial lake...
... The lake was named after the city that was built by fishermen from ‘Lesina’ ["Hvar"] in Dalmatia, the ancient ‘Pharos’, one of the ‘Liburnides’ islands. Once settled in Apulia, the colonizers imposed on the new city the name of the mother country [...] (in fact, “Hvar” is an island in the Adriatic, called by the ancients 'Pharos'; Apollonius of Rhodes (295-215 BC) called it 'Pitùeia' "and the Romans 'Faria', 'Pharia' and 'Pharus') .
Hence Norcia gives a first interpretation of the founding of Lesina as being the work of Dalmatian fishermen from "Pharos".
Epigraphic studies conducted in the 19th century by A. Gervasio, who collected a considerable number of inscriptions , have shown that in Roman times there was a city here which the Romans called "Alexina", and which documents of the Middle Ages called "Alesina.” According to some scholars:
"[...] it gravitated into the orbit of "Teanum Apulum", which was an important commercial emporium, and later its importance was certainly remarkable, and many remains of 'Alexina' today are submerged in the lake; probably, in the past, the area could reach (from) the city to the island of ‘San Clemente‘ [...]" .
Lesina in the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages "Alesina" was a Lombard “Gastaldato” ( a controlling administrative center, governed by a “Gastaldo”), and the seat of the largest and most important of the 34 counties into which Arechi (died in 787 AD), the Lombard Prince, divided the duchy of Benevento in 780 AD.
Many historians agree that the population increased in the 7th century when many citizens of Lucera, destroyed by Emperor Constans II (630-668), fled to Lesina with their Bishop. Also the abundance of the lake attracted many other people from the neighbourhood and even from far away places like the island of “Hvar” (Lesina) in Dalmatia.
The town was surrounded by an ancient wall of protection from the sea against the raids of the Saracens and Slavic pirates .
Lesina then passed to the Byzantines and became a bishopric until the 16th century, when it suffered numerous assaults by the Turks.
Origins of the name Lesina
It is possible that the two interpretations about the origin of the name Lesina are "complementary", in the sense that Lesina was probably inhabited in Roman times, and then destroyed by earthquakes and the rising sea, only to be repopulated around the 6th century AD by some Dalmatian fishermen. This issue of the "double origin", however, poses a significant problem for the etymology.
If we refer to the medieval origin, the name "Lesina" has been interpreted as "wooded"; as explained in the Magazine "Il Verri," we must refer to the Dalmatian terms:
"[...] 'les' (wood) and 'lysyi' (bald) and those more similar 'lysina' (baldness) and 'lesina' (woodland) [...]" .
If we refer to the Roman town of "Alexina" (in the Middle Ages called “Alesina”), the problem changes. In the latter case "Alexina", according to some linguistic studies, refers to the concept of "line" or "linear". Indeed Giulio Bertoni explained that:
“ ‘Lesina’ – ‘Alexina’ – ‘Alesina’ has its roots in the Latin "subula", that is a "[...] "sharp iron instrument" or " 'subula' (a pointed instrument used by stonecutters) on which they pulled a thread as that of a shoemaker (in fact it is bigger) which formed a straight line. The 'line' gave its name to 'Alesina', 'Lesina' [...]" .
In conclusion "Alexina", "Alesina" would mean "a city located along a line", probably "the coastline".
See also the Lesina travel guide and information.
1. See N.L. Savino, “Lesina, Some Contributions to a Prehistoric Survey”, Tip. Reme-Graf., Foggia, 1991
2. See N. Norcia, "History of the Two Sicilies”, 1847: 638
3. "About some ancient inscriptions existing in Lesina”, Naples, Royal Printing Office, 1853
4. See AA.VV., “La Laguna di Lesina”, Vol. 1, Giannini, 1903: 55
5. See N.L. Savino, "Lesina", Tip. Reme-Graf., Foggia, 1985: 62
6. See Magazine "The Verri, 1983: 20
7. See Giulio Bertoni, "Biblioteca dell'Archivum Romanicum ', Olschki, 1959, Vol. 58: 186