The first settlement known in the place dates from the Bronze Age (15th century BC). In the 11th century BC it was invaded by the Iapyges, while the Messapic era of the town (as well as for the whole Salento) began in the 8th century BC, to end in the 3rd century BC, with the Roman conquest.
Under the Romans, it was of importance for its trade, lying as it did on the sea, at the point where the Via Traiana joined the coast road, 50 kilometres (31 mi) southeast of Bari (Barium). An episcopal see in the Palaeo-Christian era, the city was probably abandoned in the High Middle Ages due to the spread of malaria in the area, or to Vandal and Saracen attacks.
The ancient city walls were almost entirely destroyed over a century ago to provide building material. The walls have been described as being 8 yards (7.3 m) thick and 16 courses high. The place is famous for the discoveries made in its tombs. A considerable collection of antiquities from Gnatia is preserved at Fasano, though the best are in the museum at Bari.
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