The Warriors' Park arose from the need to preserve the memory of the large circuit of walls, which had been severely damaged by ploughing and the removal of stones from arable land, activities that had continued right up until the start of the systematic research in the 1980s.
Excavations, assays, reconnaissance and surveys were conducted along the entire fortified perimeter, making it possible to reconstruct the exact course of the structure; these operations were followed by an intense restoration campaign.
In the stretches where the walls were less well conserved, making them hard to read even for archaeologists, an artificial “dune” was built over the route: this served the dual function of protecting the underlying structures while marking the presence of the fortifications, which would otherwise be difficult to perceive.
The dune conserves at its base the same average thickness of the Messapian fortifications, about 4 m, while it only reaches a fraction of the original height of up to 6 m.
In memory of the garrison that manned the fortifications during the military operations conducted by the Roman legions in 267-266 BC, some warriors still guard the defences of the Messapian city.
These are life-size two-dimensional models made of metal sheeting by the Salento sculptor Ferruccio Zilli: they are inspired by the representations commonly found on Italiote and Apulian red figure vases of the 4th century BC.
The park can be visited via the Portal, on highway S.S. 497, or from Piazza Dante, in the heart of the modern town where the Palazzo Baronale (Baron’s Palace) houses the Archaeological Museum, or from the area of the cave church of Santi Stefani, which visitors can admire along with the nearby palaeo-Christian complex of Fondo Giuliano.
The areas set up to welcome visitors also provide access to more than 3 km of cycling-walking routes.
At about 150 m to the east of the Portal, by the side of a country road (Strada Vicinale Melliche), is the northern city gate of the Messapian city, on the road that led to Muro Leccese, the main settlement of the Otranto area in antiquity.
Here, as everywhere along the circuit of walls, elements linked to three phases of construction can be recognised.
Dated to the second half of the 4th century BC are two parallel walls on either side of the corridor granting entrance to the city, the west one extending further outwards than the east.
They are made of irregular stones without mortar, and the inside of the corridor is faced with squared blocks.
On the east side the recess for the wooden door is conserved, and just to the south is a small rectangular room which perhaps housed a guard post.
Towards the end of the 4th century BC the cladding on the inside of the corridor was replaced with a new wall of accurately squared blocks, laid with the long sides aligned with the corridor.
A further reinforcement of the structure took place in the first half of the 3rd century BC, when blocks of irregular shape and dimensions were laid at the north ends of the corridor, this time extending the east wall further outwards than the west.
Of the final phase on the east side, only negative traces are conserved.
Proceeding in a southerly direction for about 150 m along the ancient road that led towards the heart of the Messapian city, near a curve we come to the area where the excavations of 1985 brought to light a place of worship with cippi dated to 550-480 BC, over which a tumulus necropolis, in use up until the early 3rd century BC, was built.
This place of worship included an area surrounded by a perimeter wall and some limestone cippi, set in rectangular sandstone bases or directly in the ground.
Carved on some of the cippi, currently on display in the Museum, are geometric decorations, while others are inscribed with Messapian names in the genitive, referring to the persons making the dedications.
In the area in front of the cippi, protected by a balustrade in pietra leccese building stone decorated with grooves, the remains of sacrifices of goats and vases used for libations of wine (bowls, jugs and kraters) were discovered.
The religious complex was used for ceremonies linked to agriculture, in the course of which rites to propitiate fertility were conducted.
Returning to the country road (Strada Vicinale Melliche) the visiting route runs along a long dry-stone wall of the modern era which partly follows the ancient defensive wall, before curving first gently and then sharply southwards, towards the north-east city gate: visible here are the silhouettes of the ancient warriors, armed with a lance and protected by a circular shield and conical pileus-type helmet.
Of the gate only negative traces in the bedrock are conserved: it was situated in the corner formed by the north and east stretches of the wall.
To the early phase of construction (about 350-300 BC) belongs the dry-stone masonry with irregular blocks of various sizes.
The refurbishment of the early 3rd century is documented by the facing wall made of large squared blocks, laid perpendicular to the corridor in the foundation level and aligned with the corridor in the first row of the wall itself.
A valuable consideration for dating the fortification lies in the fact that the facing wall of the second phase was built over two tombs lined with slabs, excavated in the bedrock, whose grave goods, on display in the Museum, are datable to 310 and 290 BC.
The visitor route continues for about 250 m along the ancient fortifications, built over which is a modern dry-stone wall, up to the east gate, through which passed the road that led to the Adriatic Sea.
In this stretch too, the walls of the early phase (second half of the 4th century BC) are made up of a dry-stone structure consisting of an inner and an outer wall made of large stones, the space between them filled with gravel and earth.
On the north-west side of the access corridor is a quadrangular room, interpreted as a guard post.
On the outside of the wall of the early phase (and along the sides of the entrance to the city) a new facing wall of squared blocks was added in the late 4th-early 3rd centuries BC.