La neviera: 17th century ice factory

The production and distribution of ice at an industrial level represented a rather important element of the economy in Puglia and, in particular, in the Gargano and Murgia where winter snowfalls were heaviest. The Petra Nevara Neviera is undoubtedly the best preserved snow house and, more than any other, can give an idea, in its majesty, of the importance that this trade had until the beginning of the twentieth century. The particular position of Martina Franca is one of the reasons for its industrial and commercial success: in fact Martina Franca is the last 'outpost' of the Apulian hills before the Salento plain. Only from Martina was it possible to market the ice by selling it to the rich noble families of Lecce and Salento in general. It is known that in the noble palaces of Lecce it was mandatory to have, in the basement, a well 'insulated' room which served as an ice house (where ice house is different from neviera, i.e. it is used not for the production, but for the conservation of ice). Only from the snow cellars of Martina was it possible to send ice up to Lecce, at night, with horse-drawn carts, on which the ice was well covered with straw: over 100 km were covered in an entire night.

The distribution of ice was not just for 'export' in Salento. In the 18th century, Martina was a rich city with flourishing commercial and artisanal activities, with a rich bourgeoisie and a rich clergy. The distribution of ice in the city of Martina Franca alone had important economic repercussions, and therefore justified this important ice factory, which remained active. at least until the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century when the first Ghiacciaia opened, that is, an ice factory with an industrial refrigerator that produced large parallelepipeds and which still existed in Corso dei Mille until the sixties.

It is necessary to add another important aspect to understand the architectural majesty of the Petra Nevara snow house, 15 meters deep and well structured on an architectural level, unlike many snow houses that are present on the Gargano which are often little more than large underground holes: the Duke of Martina , which had no territorial properties, pertaining to the noble Martinesi families, instead had the 'privacy' on the sale of ice, or rather the monopoly, which it could grant to 'entrepreneurs' with fixed-term contracts. The Neviera therefore became a fairly important source of income for the Duke and it is obvious that he invested a lot of money in the construction of large, spacious, efficient snow houses, such as that of Petra Nevara. Such was the wealth generated by trade that a second one was subsequently added to the Neviera accessible to visitors to Petra Nevara, whose sloping stone roof is visible in the large hall of the neviera. This second snow house, equally large and 12 meters deep, is currently used as a cistern for irrigation.

The wine factory in the early 1900s

Visiting the Neviera of Petra Nevara is an experience of 'industrial archaeology' which we owe above all to the good fortune of the non-abandonment of the neviera at the end of the last century: in fact, the large external spaces, the rooms, the neviera itself, were reconverted for another important industrial use at the beginning of the last century: the production of wine. The large hall adjacent to the snow house is in fact a construction from the twenty years (the symmetrical architecture of the beams, the symmetrical portholes indicate an architectural attention in line with the style of the period). The staircase leading to the underground snow house was built then (in the ice house there were no brick stairs, you went down with wooden ladders); the current walkable surface of the underground ice house covers five large cisterns (five meters deep) which were built for the storage of wine. The snow house originally had a depth of 15 meters, without interruption of continuity.

Thanks to this transformation, Neviera has remained intact to this day (the winery was operational until the Second World War). The entire structure was acquired by Dr. Giuseppe Pavone at a public auction in the mid-1960s. It was he who began the conservative restoration.

The restoration was subsequently carried out over the last few years by Paolo Pavone and was completely respectful of the environments, adding nothing, except a stable roof in the first room: the original 'pitchpine' roof and red tiles , built for transformation into a winery, collapsed in the seventies after a heavy snowfall.

The conversion into a Winery

The conversion into a 'wine factory' is an idea that we owe to the initiative and ability of a good winemaker from Taranto, Cosimo Torsello, who insisted that the underground spaces be repurposed for the use that had been made until the post-second world crisis. world War. The entire Itria valley between Martina, Locorotondo, Cisternino and Ceglie was a single large vineyard divided into small plots that individual farmers cultivated with love and then delivered the grapes to the wineries.

The Petra Nevara establishment had the added value of the deep snow cellar at a constant temperature of 10-12 degrees, which was used for storing the wine in underground cisterns and for refining the large wooden barrels. The walls that were used to support the larger barrels are still present in the snow house, and parts of barrels were also present when the restoration began. The refinement of the Petra Nevara wines takes place in the Neviera, in more modern 350 liter oak barrels.

The selection of wines from fine grapes from the upper Salento takes place with the advice of experts who aim to obtain a product that is considered an excellence in Apulian wine production. A target that we hope to reach with the two reds (Primitivo and Negroamaro), the rosé and the white with Chardonnay grapes.