At a certain point Lecce emerged from the crowded list of Italian cities of art and set itself as a destination no longer just for summer. The fashion of the 'holiday in Salento' has greatly encouraged the knowledge of this beautiful town in Puglia, which until then was appreciated especially by art lovers. Lecce, in fact, as well as a point of passage towards the 'Caribbean of Italy' is first of all a city rich in testimonies and works of art from the Roman, Medieval and Renaissance periods.
Flamboyant decorations that enrich the cladding of the buildings, the intense colors of the Lecce stone: a soft and compact limestone, with warm and golden colors that lends itself very well to working with the stonemason. The Baroque art spread to Lecce in the seventeenth century, during the Spanish domination, replacing the classical art and creating a style that left room for imagination and imagination. The historic center is full of examples of the working of this stone in monuments, churches but also balconies and terraces of private homes. But it is not only the Baroque that characterizes Lecce: hospitable, tidy, with a great gastronomy and an exceptional sea a few steps away, it is one of the must-see destinations to visit in Italy
The historic center of Lecce
Lecce is called the 'Lady of the Baroque', and it is the baroque art that characterizes the spiers, the portals, the churches, the monuments and the houses of the historical center. Crossing Porta Napoli, erected in 1548 in honor of Charles V, you enter the old city.
From here branch out some of the most important streets of Lecce, which overlook refined buildings and interesting craft shops where they are made of papier-mache and Lecce stone objects. Walking comfortably on foot through the streets of the center you will find the Church of Santa Maria della Provvidenza, in Piazzetta Baglivi, and that of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli in Piazzetta Sorrows. In Via Umberto I, instead, you can admire the sixteenth century Palazzo Adorno and the Basilica of Santa Croce, symbol of the city and of the Lecce Baroque. Without hard work you can reach the central core of the city, or the elegant Piazza Sant'Oronzo, the pulsating heart of city life, in which stands the famous column of the patron saint, and the scenic Piazza del Duomo with the magnificent side façade of the Cathedral. its high bell tower, the fifteenth-century Palazzo del Vescovado distinguished by the angular arcaded arcade, and the seminary palace dating back to 1700, now home to the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, the Innocenziana Library and the Diocesan Historical Archives.
For garden lovers, the Villa Comunale, located near Piazza Sant'Oronzo, will be a pleasant stop. Named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Villa was once called by the Lecce 'Villa della Lupa' for the presence of a cage in which were wolves of wolves (the wolf stands in the emblem of the city called Lupiae by the Romans).
The Roman Amphitheater of Lecce
Together with the Theater (in via Arte della Cartapesta), it is the most important testimony of the Roman era. The amphitheater was built in the 2nd century AD to entertain, with the shows and games that took place inside, the passionate spectators (the building could accommodate about 20,000).
The monumental structure was completely buried by rubble following earthquakes and devastation and only at the beginning of the twentieth century, thanks to some excavation work, was brought to light. However, the part visible today is lower than the street level, but it is only a third of the entire structure (basically the lower half of the covered stands) which is probably still hidden in the underground of the central Piazza Sant'Oronzo as some of the city's historic buildings stand out. The Roman Amphitheater was built with tufa pillars surmounted by an arched architecture. Of the recovered sculptures, the most interesting are: a statue of the Goddess Athena (today exposed to the Castromediano Museum), and some marble reliefs of the parapet that separated the two series of steps depicting scenes of hunting and fighting between men and wild animals. Today the Amphitheater is the setting for theatrical performances and concerts.
The Castle of Charles V in Lecce
Near Piazza Sant'Oronzo stands the Castle wanted by King Charles V in 1539. The project was entrusted to the architect Gian Giacomo dell'Acaya and required the demolition of the Chapel of the Holy Trinity and the Celestino Monastery of Santa Croce which were entitled two of the towers that make up the fortress.
The castle, built on a pre-existing fortification built between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, has two concentric structures separated by an intermediate courtyard, four angular bastions (S. Giacomo, S. Croce, S. Trinità and S. Martino) to lance-shaped spikes, mighty walls and a moat filled in 1872. For a long time the fortification served as a defense of the territory, then one of its halls was used to host theatrical performances (eighteenth century), later it served as barracks and military district ( from 1870 to 1979). Today the Castle, owned by the Municipality of Lecce, is the seat of the Department of Culture and its rooms are used for cultural events, art exhibitions, eno-gastronomic events. The great hall (Salone della Duchessa) on the first floor of the keep with cross vault and ribs supported by late Gothic capitals carved with leaves decorations and allegorical figures is of great value.
The churches of Lecce
Lecce, city of churches. This is how the Apulian capital was defined in the past due to the large number and beauty of its sacred buildings. In addition to the Cathedral and the Basilica of Santa Croce, a myriad of other churches (about 40) are scattered throughout the city.
Among the oldest, mention must be made of the Church of Saints Nicolò and Cataldo in the city cemetery: built in the Middle Ages (1180) at the behest of Tancredi d'Altavilla, last king of the Normans, it was restored in 1716 acquiring a Baroque imprint but preserving always elements of his original style. The portal is decorated with arabesques and plant motifs while the interior has a Latin cross with three tall and narrow aisles. The adjoining convent develops around two cloisters, in the oldest of which you can admire a magnificent shrine on richly carved spiral columns placed as a cover of the Renaissance well. Among the most original, one cannot fail to mention the Church of San Matteo (1667 - 1700) with its unique curvilinear façade that recalls the Roman church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. The building has a complex two-tiered Baroque façade while the elliptical interior is bordered by arched chapels containing altars rich in decorations. The one in San Matteo is magnificent with a wooden statue of the saint in the middle (1691). The beautiful church dedicated to Sant'Irene, patron saint of Lecce until 1656 is perfectly placed in the center of the city. Built in the 16th century by the order of the Teatines on the model of the churches of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome, Sant'Andrea of the Dame and of San Paolo Maggiore of Naples, the religious building presents on the main portal the statue of the saint and on the high pediment the coat of arms of the city (the she-wolf under the crowned holm-oak). The interior has a single nave with three chapels on each side; stand out the altar dedicated to Santa Irene full of decorations and statues and the magnificent Tiso canvas, the 'Transport of the Holy Ark' (1758) behind the high altar and the canvas depicting the Madonna della Libera, kept in the sacristy. Whether they are medieval, renaissance or baroque, all the churches of Lecce, of which those mentioned are just a few examples, preserve the historical, artistic and religious heritage of the city.
Piazza Sant'Oronzo in Lecce
Piazza Sant'Oronzo is the main square of Lecce, the city living room, which has always been a meeting place. Shops, cafes, offices crowd the evocative oval square whose pavement is adorned with a mosaic depicting the emblem of the city: the she-wolf under a holm oak tree and the crown with 5 towers.
The buildings that compose it, built between the Middle Ages and the Nineteenth century, constitute a heterogeneous architectural ensemble, the result of different styles that harmoniously coexist. In the past it was known as the 'merchants' square' due to the massive presence of shops and businesses that then disappeared to make room for the building that was supposed to house the Bank of Italy (20th century).
Piazza del Duomo
From Piazza Sant'Oronzo, moving in the direction of Via Vittorio Emanuele II, after a few hundred meters, you will arrive in Piazza Duomo. Here are the Cathedral, the Episcopal Palace and the Seminary which completely enclose the square on three sides. Not far from the Duomo there is Doppiozero, a restaurant, emporium and tastings where you can eat meatballs with sauce, salami and salentine cheeses, strictly on community tables with jazz background.
Where to sleep in Lecce
Lecce has experienced in recent years a real tourist explosion to which the city has responded with the flourishing of reception facilities. Today the city of Puglia has an excellent offer of hotels, bed & breakfasts, farmhouses and rooms to rent that gives visitors a wide choice.
In the historic center there are some luxury hotels, some 3-star hotels and above all, less expensive but very welcoming bed and breakfasts. In the historic center prices are a bit higher than those practiced in the suburbs. An excellent alternative are the farmhouses and farmhouses located just outside the city, near the sea or among the olive trees. They are mostly old renovated farmhouses, many of which have a swimming pool
Exploring nearby areas
San Cataldo, sunny, calm and on the sea, can be reached with a short ride from Lecce. The number 32 bus leaves from the Castle of Lecce and leads directly to the sea: an excellent idea not to succumb to the siesta Lecce, 3 hours ranging from 14:00 to 17:00 when the whole city sleeps. Who has the car can continue from San Cataldo to San Foca and Torre dell'Orso where there are some of the most beautiful beaches of Salento.
What to see in Lecce with the children
Lecce is a flat and easy to explore city. Children will love wandering the streets of the historic center and running in Piazza Sant'Oronzo and Piazza Duomo. Walking on foot from here you can easily reach the Libreria Liberrima with an excellent selection of books and graphic novels for the little ones. It is located in the courtyard of a historic building. You can browse through the volumes calmly while sipping a Quarta coffee from the cafeteria next door.
What to eat
Good food is at home in Lecce: the fruits of the land and the sea offer a myriad of typical dishes of the Salento culinary tradition. The spices of the Mediterranean scrub (sage, mint, oregano, rosemary ...) contribute, then, to increase the flavor of each dish.
Vegetables certainly do not lack on the tables: they are usually cooked a pot of terracotta, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and served with friselle (toasted bread and toasted bread). Among the typical dishes are to mention the rustic Lecce, two discs of puff pastry stuffed with mozzarella, béchamel, tomato, pepper and nutmeg; the puccia, a round and small-sized wheat bread that, if it does not have to be stuffed, provides black olives in the dough: careful to the teeth, because the olives are not pitted! If you do not have difficult tastes, you should also try the municeddhe, snails that are collected when they formed around the opening a white membrane that recalls the color of the monastic dress (mudiceddhe means precisely nuns). For the desserts there is nothing but spoiled for choice; in addition to the famous pasticciotto leccese, which is eaten strictly hot, there is an endless variety of delicacies prepared with almond paste. What about wines? The Negramaro, Salice Salentino and Primitivo di Manduria are just some of the local wines of Salento that are characterized by the fullness of color and flavor.
From amazing historical places and delicious foods Lecce is a wonderful travel destination to marvel at Salento and explore a gem as long as it’s almost untouched from the masses tourism.