Lecce is located in the Puglia region in the heel of the boot in the Italian Peninsula where the Adriatic and Ionian seas are easily accessible. This city is over 2,000 years old and is one of the most important cities in Italy. Commonly known as “The Florence of the South” for its Baroque architecture. The town’s treasure is its architecture.
There are 3 Baroque style gates into the historical city center and 2 centers: the central square of Lecce the Piazza Sant’Oronzo where the ruins of the Amphitheatre stand and the Piazza del Duomo (the Cathedral square). In the Piazza Sant’Oronzo is a statue of a bishop perched on a column. This column is one of 2 which originally marked the end of the Roman Appian Way. The other is in Brindisi. One gate, the Porta Napoli was built in 1548.
This city existed at the time of the Trojan War and was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C.
The Baroque buildings built by the 17th century architects rival those in Florence. So distinctive is Lecce’s architecture is has acquired its own name “Lecce Baroque”. It is now a casual university town with boutiques, restaurants and a strong tradition of Papier-mâché making.
As is common in Italy, the streets empty as the hottest part of the day passes and this was the case when we were in Lecce so of course if you can’t shop….the infamous gelato was enjoyed by everyone in our group! As evening approaches Italians get out and ‘stroll’ this is called “Passeggiata”. This ritual evening stroll can be experienced all over Italy. We found it on the Amalfi Coast, in Rome and now in Puglia. It is just a leisurely time to walk and chat with neighbors. See and be seen!
Some of the sights of Lecce:
Basilica di Santa Croce; Church of the Holy Cross begun in 1353 was completed in 1695 and features sculptures and a rose window (the church was under renovations so no great photos of the entire church). It is a Baroque church that is decorated on the facade with all manner of animals like sheep, cherubs and grotesque figures right out of Harry Potter and has a large rose window and Corinthian columns. Next door is the Government Palace which was a former convent.
Piazza del Duomo- Lecce Cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Lecce was originally built in 1144 and rebuilt later and finally restored by 1670. The Duomo Square features a 5 story Bell Tower.
Chiesa di San Matteo, a Baroque style Catholic church built in 1667 has 2 columns on its facade, one is decorated but the sculptor was killed before he could finish the work.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara 1429-1438 – A Baroque church with twisting columns and ornate statuary and a ceiling of classic Leccese Papier-mâché.
Chiesa di Sant’ Irene from 1591 has one of the largest altars in Lecce. From the 17th century it contains a pair of mirror Baroque altar pieces facing each other.
Church of San Giovanni Battista. There was a long traditional affinity with the Greek culture due to its proximity.
Limestone is one of the city’s main exports. it is very soft and workable and very suitable for sculptures.
Olive oil and wine production are prominent in this area as well as ceramic production.
The Roman Amphitheatre was built in the 2nd century and is located near the Sant’Oronzo Square. It once seated more than 25,000 people. It is half buried now as other buildings and monuments were built above it over the centuries. You can feel the history when you stand here.
I was fascinated with all the doors in this historic city and I will do a separate photo blog of those but check out some of the ornate building details.
I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without mentioning our guide Giuseppe who made our tour of Lecce extremely memorable! Thanks Giuseppe! I guarantee we will not forget you 🙂 or to the Bride and Groom whose wedding arrival we interrupted for pictures!
If you are considering a trip to Puglia I hope you have gotten a little taste of how fabulous this region can be. It is becoming a more and more popular travel destination. Where to stay? We stayed at the Borgo Egnazia Resort and Spa in Savelletri di Fasano right on the coast. Their slogan is NOWHERE ELSE and I can tell you I concur! Madonna left just before we arrived. Bummer! This is a great spot for visiting all the sights in Puglia like Alberobello, Lecce, and Martina Franca. I bought a case of Olive Oil! This resort does not require my endorsement. Follow the blog (up next week) to see some of the many pictures I took trying to capture the magnificence of this resort. Borgo Egnazia, Puglia
If you missed the beginning of this series head back to the beginning: Puglia – an Undiscovered Gem in Italy.