Lecce, a story of stone
Lecce is a pure Baroque gem nicknamed the Florence of the South for its architectural integrity.
Part of the Western Roman Empire, sacked by the Ostrogoths, part of the Eastern Empire, briefly ruled by Saracens, Lombards, Hungarians and Slavs, it is under the Normans that Lecce regained commercial and political importance to flourish in the following Hohenstaufen and Angevine rule. It was one of the most important counties in the Kingdom of Sicily from 1053 to 1463. From the 15th century, Lecce was one of the most important cities of southern Italy. To prevent Ottoman invasions, Charles V built a new line of walls and a castle in the first part of the 16th century.
The Barocco leccese developed in Lecce and in Terra d'Otranto between the second half of the 16th century and the end of the 17th century.
The apparition of ‘Barocco leccese' is linked to the Church's need to re-assert its authority and display its power. This was done through a very peculiar and expressive architectural decoration.
Soon, the architectural style was adopted by wealthy people and many palaces were built.
The Barocco leccese was adopted by all, making the whole city a harmonious and homogenous place.
From churches to palaces, defensive walls to the castle, homes to streets, everything is made of the same ochre limestone.
Easy to cut, it was soaked in fluid containing whole milk. This process reduced its porosity, making the surface hard and compact.
Do not miss the oldest part of the Monumental Cemetary, all in Barocco leccese as well.
Beware that the cemetery is closed between 12h and 15h. Do not get stuck inside like me!
Other places of interest
Viale Gallipoli is borded by some really beautiful villas.
Parks and fountains
There are several interesting parks outside the old walls.
The public garden houses some nice buildings.
Piazza Mazzini Giuseppe
There is a monumental fountain made of stone.
A bit excentred, right next to the cemetery, the park is well worth the walk.
There you will find the Belloluogo tower, a medieval tower built in the fourteenth century.
The medieval complex is an great example of Angevin military architecture. The cylindrical tower is still surrounded by the original moat full of water.
Maria d'Enghien, Countess of Lecce and Queen of Naples, spent the last years of her life there.
The park also houses a few archaeological discoveries as well as typical walls and a pagghiara.
A pagghiara is a stone structure typical of the Salento. It is made with stones found in the fields.
At the foot of the castle, the "Fountain of Harmony” represents the allegory of love and youth.
The city hosts a Roman theatre, an amphiteatre as well as a bit of strada romana.
Build during the second century AD, the amphitheatre is in incredible condition and had a capacity of 25000 people. It was used for fights with animals or among gladiators
Comedies and tragedies were performed in the theatre, built in the I-II century BC. With a capacity of 5000 people, its ruins are hidden between barocco buildings. There is a small archaeological museum nearby.
Orologio delle Meraviglie
This huge clock on the side of the Banco di Napoli shows a complex decoration. Made of enamel, it depicts a cyclic eye in which the iris is represented by the dial.
The upper part of the clock is decorated with the coat of arms of the Terra d'Otranto (now Salento): the dolphin and the crescent moon* accompanied by the sun, with olive and pomegranate branches on the sides to symbolize the richness and fertility of the earth.
Below, the Chariot of the Sun is surrounded by two figures of the Annunciation.
In the central part, there are 12 zodiacal signs all represented in a feminine key.
The Roman numerals of the hours alternate with figures of tarot: love, justice, fortitude, the devil, the ace of money, the ace of sticks, the seven of money, the Princes, the sword with the crown, the twins with the sun, the water and the vase of flowers. The big lancet has on its end the polar star and the seraph, while the small one the chanting cock and the first phase of the moon.
*The coat of arms of the Land of Otranto initially depicted a dolphin. After the liberation of the territory from the Turks, the Ottoman crescent was inserted in the mouth of the dolphin.
The obelisk was erected in 1822 in honor of FerdinandI of Bourbon.
It is is decorated on its four sides with some bas-relief figures, including the dolphin burying the Turkish crescent, the coat of arms of the Land of Otranto.
Fun fact: according to the story, the obelisk was painted in black to look like it was made of marble but the first rain cleared the colour.
Papier-mâché or cartapesta is a craft that is unique to Lecce. Originally from Middle and Far East, it was found everywhere in Puglia during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Its use comes from the need to provide religious statues for local churches and monuments within a rather short time frame. Because marble and bronze, or the tools to work with them, were not accessible, artisans were compelled to find a new method. Cartapesta was the perfect solution and became the artistic medium of choice.
Ceramics, lucky charms and leccese stone artefacts
The perfect place to stay
Fjore di Lecce gives you the opportunity to live like a local. They have a beautiful little appartment with everything you need during your stay. It really looks like it is carved in the rock.