Castro is a city of Roman origin, now known as a bathing and fishing village. The city-center was built on a promontory known as “Casciu de Susu”, while the marina was built around a harbor called “Casciu de Sutta”, or “Casciu marina”. The town blossomed during the days of the Liberian-Illyrian and Pelasgian migration (XVII – VVI Century B.C.) when the nearby Epirus moved westward from the Balkan Peninsula. It was inhabited by the Messapian and the Greeks. In 123 B.C., it became a Roman colony under the name of Castrum Minervae and was important enough to be included in the ancient Roman map, Tabula Peutingeriana.
Following the division of the Roman Empire, Castro was taken over by the Byzantine Empire and suffered frequent attacks by the Alans and the Ostrogoths in 378; the Vandals in 456; the Goths in 543; as well as the Lombards and the Hungarians. In 682 it was one of the first cities of Salento to be elected to the rank of ‘bishopric’ by Pope Leone II. During the subsequent Swabian domination, the town turned into a thriving commercial center and secure military stronghold. Castro was conquered by the Arabs for eleven years, during which time the city took on the name ‘Al Qatara’ (The Castle); a testament to Castro’s cosmopolitan history.
From 1046 to 1068, the Normans and Byzantines fought for control of Castro. In 1103, the city became known as a county under the patronage of the Altavilla family. In 1270, the County of Castro came under the principality of Taranto. Over several centuries, patronage was succeeded by the Biellotto, De Franco, De Bugiaco, Orsini del Balzo and della Posta families. In 1534, Charles V bestowed the County of Castro to the Gattinara family. Throughout this century, the city suffered devastating raids by pirates. The most terrible incidents occurred in 1537 and 1573. Both times, the city was abandoned by its counts and bishops for safer and more comfortable locations further north. The surviving population of Castro was forced to move inland for protection and the ancient city of Minervae Castrum became desolate. Castro was then passed down to Ruiz de Castro, Lopez Zunica and finally in 1777 the Rossi family who ruled over the city until the abolition of feudalism in 1806.
The abolition of feudalism accompanied by the suppression of the diocese in 1818 became the ‘coup de grace’ in the decline of Castro’s cosmopolitan history. The small town was absorbed by the municipality of Diso and for centuries only constituted a small fraction of the surrounding regions.
The revival of the town and the rebirth of Castro’s active city-center, filled with fishermen, craftsmen and tour operators took place during the second half of the twentieth century. Such efforts resulted in the restitution of the city’s communal autonomy in 1975.