Lecce Italy, “Florence of the Baroque”

Lecce is situated in “the heel” of Italy’s “boot”, and accommodates a population of around 95,000 people. It is famous for its works and architecture from the Baroque period (17th & 18th century). So I was puzzled as to why our cruise ship’s Journal (and some websites) used the term “The Florence of the South” in reference to Lecce (pronounced Letché), especially since the city of Florence came to prominence during the Renaissance (14th and 15th century). Although, I may be missing the point, as I’m certainly not an expert in this field.

Several other websites describe Lecce as the “Florence of the Baroque”, which seems more appropriate to me and is why I used it. However, another title I came across, “Rome of the South” could also be suitable because of Lecce’s Roman architectural heritage.

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To get us to Lecce our cruise ship MV Aegean Odyssey travelled overnight from Dubrovnik and docked at Brindisi. We then journeyed 60 kms south by bus to the Comune di Lecce.

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Our Voyage to Antiquity Cruise so far (plus the next destination) – Courtesy of Google Maps   Map data © 2017 GeoBasis-DE/BKG (©2009), Google

Lecce was built in its current location by the Roman Emperor Hadrian during the 2nd Century BC. However this gate, Porta Napoli (shown below), was built in the 16th century under rule of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

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Porta Napoli

Porta Napoli was our entry and exit point for the old city. As one would assume, it was originally attached to the city’s walls, which have largely been destroyed.

Compared to other walled cities we visited, Lecce is built on relatively flat ground and is not “hemmed in” by the terrain. So perhaps this is why the width of the streets is more generous and not restricted to pedestrians, as is the case in Dubrovnik and Urbino, for example.

Buildings are mostly constructed of Lecce’s local “honey” limestone.

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While the streets are wider, there are few footpaths. So we were at times sharing the extra space with cars and delivery vans.

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Our tour group members were constantly reminding each other to “move to the side” for passing cars and vans.

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Walking along Via Giuseppe Palmieri towards our first attraction

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Despite the presence of cars and vans on the streets, Lecce has a relaxed ambience.

We took a brief turn into Piazzetta Ignazio Falconiere to observe some fine Baroque stone carvings.

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Baroque ornamentation on the building to the left

Apparently the Lecce limestone is relatively easy to work, encouraging the creation of such detailed reliefs and statues.

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A closer look at the Baroque ornamentation

At the end of Via Giuseppe Palmieri is Piazza del Duomo.

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Entering Piazza di Duomo, to see the side of the beautiful Catholic Cathedral (Duomo)

This facade is on the left side of the Cathedral.

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Upper section of Duomo’s side facade

The original Catholic Cathedral was built in the 12 century, then rebuilt in the 13th century  and totally restored in the 17th Century by Giuseppe Zimbalo, who also built the bell tower.

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Bell Tower of Duomo del Lecce
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The Bishop’s Palace (ahead), Seminary (right)

The above photo was taken at 10.10 am, but the “Bishop’s Clock” was in another time zone (8.30).

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Approaching the Duomo’s main entrance, with the Bishop’s Palace to the right
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Duomo’s main entrance – our guide (at the bottom left ) explaining it features
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Sumptuous adornment of Duomo’s left nave
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Duomo’s magnificent central nave and altar

Then we were onto Via Vittorio Emanuelle II, dodging more vehicles, on our way to Santa Croce Basilica.

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Via Vittorio Emanulle II
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Approaching Santa Croce Basilica

The Basilica was undergoing renovations, which meant greater restrictions on the number of visitors at any one time. While we awaited our turn, this couple arrived in a chauffeur peddled vehicle.

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Arriving in style – Basilica to right
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Basilica’s central nave and altar

What did I miss? Two guides were simultaneously pointing upwards. Although there is plenty of wonderfully carved details to point at. While the ornamentation is beautiful and there is much too like, the Basilica’s interior appears somewhat stark and cold.

There is some colour to liven up the scene.

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Gold framed painting on the ceiling of the central nave, with column relief sculptures (right)

 

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This is where one can make a donation if lighting a candle (although I’m not familiar with this practice)

Our final attraction of this tour was the city’s main square. Coincidentally as we entered the area a recording of one of Lecce’s famous male opera singers burst onto the square’s sound system. This should happen everywhere. It added so much to the experience.

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Piazza S. Oronz0 – Lecce’s main square

Saint Oronzo is the patron saint of Lecce. In Piazza S. Oronzo his statue sits on a Roman column, which was originally one of two columns that marked the end of the Appian Way in Brindisi. This column was donated to Lecce by the people of Brindisi, when in the 17th century it was believed that Saint Oronzo had saved them from the plague.

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The Appian Way was a Roman built road, linking Rome to key cities of the early Empire as far south as Taranto and Brindisi. The main section was completed in 312 BC and provided a substantial benefit to the Roman military in their attempts to quell uprisings within this part of the empire.

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The Appian Way (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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Also in Piazza S. Oronzo are the remnants of a Roman amphitheatre. Not all of the structure has been excavated and is unlikely to be, as the remainder sits under one of Lecce’s main intersections and some public buildings.

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This Roman Amphitheatre apparently seated 25,000 people
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I don’t think the green objects (towards the bottom right) are from the Roman Era
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As close as we could get to entering the sub-floor area of the Amphitheatre

Inspection of the amphitheatre marked the end of our morning tour. It was time for the obligatory coffee and cake, before returning to the ship.

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Late morning coffee, just off Piazza S. Oronzo (photo taken by Ron – one of our travelling companions)

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There’s a lot we didn’t see in Lecce:
Charles V Palace, Torro del Parco, Palazzo del Celestini, etc. etc.,
but I’m certain we’ll see those (and more) next time.

Where to now?

Back across the Adriatic and into the Ionian Sea on our way to

wonderful Corfu in Greece, of course

So stay tuned for the next episode of our “Voyage to Antiquity”.

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