S. Maria di Leuca rises on the Japigio promontory on the extreme tip of the spur of Italy which ends on the high rocks of "Punta Meliso ", precisely where the Ionian sea and the Adriatic sea meet allowing the spectator to enjoy an extremely rare spectacle: to watch the sunrise in the waters of the Adriatic sea and the sunset in the Ionian sea. In this point the continuous currents seem to plough the sea so much so that it is possible to see a diversity of colours in the water; for local people they are two seas that meet, but actually it is not so because we are in front of the Ionian sea having already left the Adriatic.
Its historical origins are enveloped in numerous legends that attributed to it the picture of a marvellous and imaginative place. A legend tells indeed that the salentine peninsula hangs from the east because a Greek god wanted it all for himself. Besides a fresco of the ‘600, situated on the vault of the Sacristy of the church of S. Giovanni Battista in Parabita, seems to tell as the salentine shores were once: Gallipoli, Castro, S. Isidoro and naturally Leuca of which we immediately recognize the promontory with the Sanctuary surrounded by many buildings.
The most surprising picture is the representation of a crowned siren with 2 tails that with closed eyes (probably dead) floats on the water. The Capuchin monk Tasselli, author of “Antichità di Leuca 1963” (“Antiquity of Leuca 1963”) wrote: “… Some say that this city of Leuca was built by the Siren Leucasia like Naples by the Partenope companion. But these sirens, and these fables, are never admitted by the historians as reason of edification of cities or nations…”. Tasselli agrees with the historians. Licofronte in the poem Alessandra (vv. 716-737) tells that after been defeated by Ulysses the three sirens, Partenope, Leucasia and Ligea, had the unhappy destiny to finish their life in the deep waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea changing their nature before giving origin to three different cities. Partenope was buried near a river and the city of Naples was born from its tomb; About the other two the historians have given different opinions. Recently a salentine writer, Carlo Stasi, in his work, Leucasia, has given a theory about the famous names Meliso and Ristola beginning from the story of the death of the siren Leucasia.
It would have different epochs and founders, for some it was founded indeed by the Acarenis (a Greek people), for others by the Philistines and for others again by the Phoenicians. Recently some researches carried out in the coast and in the hinterland of Leuca attested to the primitive man's existence of the Neanderthal period, in the caves of Diavolo, Gigante and Bambino. Besides some researches carried out by the institute of Archaeology and Ancient History of the University of Lecce brought to light the existence of a village that dates back to the Bronze Age situated in the area of the present Sanctuary.
In spite of this, its ancient origins are confirmed by the innumerable quotes of the classical writers from Tucidide to Galateo that writes: "… in the Iapigio promontory there was a famous, sacred and venerable temple. Here there was a little city called Leuca "; from Strabone (63 B.C. -19 A.D.), that remembers it like a little city in which a temple dedicated to the goodness Minerva rose, to Virgil that in the Aeneid's third book (v. 533-536) described the Japigio promontory with hills of punta Meliso and Ristola:
”The land lies open to the raging east, Then, bending like a bow, with rocks compress’d, Shuts out the storms; the winds and waves complain and vent their malice on the cliffs in vain, The port lies hid within; on either side Two tow’ring rocks the narrow mouth divide. The temple, which aloft we viewed before to distance flies, and seems to shun the shore.”
There are no doubts that Virgil speaks about the "Capo di Leuca ", because following the way made by Aeneas, who came from the Epirus (a region situated to the Northwest of Greece) you arrive effectively in this extreme strip of Italy. It is also confirmed by the fact, that, after having left Leuca with his soldiers, after having passed Punta Ristola, he met the Gulf of Taranto.