The last stop of our tour of Apulia, or Puglia - the far southeast point of Italy, the "heel" of the boot, was Lecce. The city has been around for some two thousand years, and is the capital of the province with the same name. We park on the west side of the historic centre, and enter through the Porta Rudiae, one of the three historic city gates of the city. From here, the next few hours will be a pure visual joy for the eyes. An overdose of baroque architecture. Lecce is famous for the limestone that is quarried in the region, which is a soft quality, making it easier to sculpt. And indeed, almost every building in the city centre has sculpted elements. The balconies, door posts, windows, upper part of buildings: you can see heads of animals, fruits, or other ornaments sculpted on the walls.
We listen to our guide as she shows us around and tells the history of the city. It is thought that there was already a settlement at this location in the Messapii times. It was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BCE, and initially called Lupiae, but slightly moved and renamed Licea under emperor Hadrian. What we see are, of course, buildings of a much later date - until we walk a side street, and see a Roman theatre in between the medieval structures. It inevitably makes you wonder what else lies hidden under the existing city. Indeed, after we walk a few minutes we arrive at the Piazza Sant'Oronzo, named after the patron saint of Lecce, where we see the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre that was discovered here. Buildings have been removed to be able to excavate these Roman remains.
We now have a small break with a delicious ice cream, and walk a few blocks to reach one of the many churches of Lecce: the Basilica di Santa Croce, or the church of the Holy Cross. Its facade is stunning, with an abundance of sculpted elements. Our guide patiently explains the details, pointing to some features of faces, animals and fruit we probably would have otherwise missed. It is overwhelming - and next door, we see the Palazzo dei Celestini, an elegant government building. From here, we meander through Lecce, see more churches, small squares, and many other richly decorated buildings, until we reach the cathedral where a wedding is going on. If we would not have a flight to catch, we could have easily spent another day or two to explore this amazingly rich city.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Lecce (Italy). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Lecce. Read more about this site.