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.
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.
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.
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.
While the streets are wider, there are few footpaths. So we were at times sharing the extra space with cars and delivery vans.
Our tour group members were constantly reminding each other to “move to the side” for passing cars and vans.
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.
Apparently the Lecce limestone is relatively easy to work, encouraging the creation of such detailed reliefs and statues.
At the end of Via Giuseppe Palmieri is Piazza del Duomo.
This facade is on the left side of the Cathedral.
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.
The above photo was taken at 10.10 am, but the “Bishop’s Clock” was in another time zone (8.30).
Then we were onto Via Vittorio Emanuelle II, dodging more vehicles, on our way to 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.