The monument that has become the symbol of Poggiardo, with which many of the town's inhabitants still proudly identify today, actually has a fairly recent history.
This small place of worship had been practically forgotten about for centuries, having been overshadowed by the new and vigorous wave of building that swept the town from the late 17th to the late 18th centuries, altering the urban layout and erasing much of its medieval heritage.
Today, the crypt’s very identity as a church excavated in the rock means that it is literally hidden from view.
Rediscovered almost by accident in 1929, the ancient crypt of Santa Maria degli Angeli has been replicated and finally given a new life in the Museo degli Affreschi, the Museum of the Frescoes, where its priceless mural paintings are now housed.
The conclusive act in this drama was the inauguration in 1975 of the Museum in Piazza Episcopo, in the presence of the then Prime Minister Aldo Moro.
Today visitors to Poggiardo can experience the Byzantine memory of Santa Maria degli Angeli in two locations: the original site of the crypt, to which visits can be organised on request, and the museum of the paintings in Piazza Episcopo.
However, it will soon also be possible to visit the site and the frescoes on line, in the framework of a joint Italo-Japanese initiative involving the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (Florence), the Soprintendenza per i Beni Storici Artistici ed Etnoantropologici (archaeological authority) of Puglia (Bari) and the University of Kanazawa (Research Center of Italian Mural Paintings).
The crypt of Poggiardo is part of a wide-ranging project for diagnostic research and documentation of execution techniques and the state of conservation of early medieval and Byzantine wall paintings in Puglia.
A team worked in situ in late September 2012, verifying the current environmental conditions of the crypt and the frescoes, as well as the effects of their detachment.
They also conducted a series of non-destructive diagnostic analyses, the results of which will be published soon.
The last phase of the Italo-Japanese project originally involved the creation and publication on line of an interactive virtual 3D model of the crypt and its decoration.
The model is not yet ready but is expected to enable an “advanced” virtual visit, in which the “remote” user can not only see the original “container”, the current museum and the images of the wall paintings, but also appreciate the efforts in terms of study and conservation made in the last few years by the scientific world and by the municipality to ensure the rebirth of Santa Maria degli Angeli.