Lecce is one of the biggest cities in the region of Puglia. It’s also one of the prettiest! With its ornate, Baroque architecture, Lecce couldn’t look more different than Florence or Venice or Bologna. And exploring the city yields one interesting sight after another, like a 16th-century castle, one of the most important churches in Italy, and ancient Roman amphitheatre—just to name a few. (Find out more about why Puglia is one of our favorite regions in Italy!).
Historic Lecce is a beautiful baroque town; a glorious architectural confection of palaces and churches intricately sculpted from the soft local sandstone. It is a city full of surprises: one minute you are perusing sleek designer fashions from Milan, the next you are faced with a church, dizzyingly decorated with asparagus column tops, decorative dodos and cavorting gremlins. Swooning 18th-century traveller Thomas Ashe thought it the most beautiful city in Italy, but the less-impressed Marchese Grimaldi said the facade of Santa Croce made him think a lunatic was having a nightmare.
Either way, its a lively, graceful university town packed with upmarket boutiques, antique shops, restaurants and bars. Both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas are within easy access and its a great base from which to explore the Salento.
Lecce is rightly acclaimed as one of the capitals of the Baroque and the most beautiful baroque town in Puglia. the Broroque is a style which here has acquired unrivalled originality and exuberance due to the skills with which local architects and stonemasons worked the soft, malleable pink-tinged local stone.
Lecce dates back to the times of the Messapi. It was eventually conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BC. During the time of Hadrian (2nd century AD) a theatre was built together with an Amphitheatre whose imposing remains still stand in the town’s main square, Piazza S. Oronzo.
It was during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries that the so called “Lecce Baroque” developed, embellishing the town centre with monuments of great artistic worth.
This is the most important church in Lecce. It was begun in 1353 and completed only in 1695. It has a richly decorated façade with animals, grotesque figures and vegetables, and a large rose window. Next to the church is the Government Palace, a former convent.
The Duomo is one of the most significant in all Italy. It was originally built in 1144, and rebuilt in 1230. It was totally restored in the years 1659-70 by Giuseppe Zimbalo, who also built the 70 metres high bell tower.
The church of San Niccolò and Cataldo is a nice example of Italo-Norman architecture. It was founded by Tancred of Sicily in 1180. In 1716 the façade was rebuilt, with the addition of numerous statues, but maintaining the fine original portal. The interior has a nave and two aisles, with ogival arcades and a dome in the centre of the nave. The frescoes on the walls are from the 15th-17th centuries.
Built in the 2nd century and situated near SantOronzo Square, this amphitheatre could seat more than 25,000 people. It is now half-buried because other monuments were built above it over the centuries.
The column of Saint Oronzo (Lecces patron) was given to Lecce by the city of Brindisi, because Saint Oronzo was reputed to have cured the plague in Brindisi. The column was one of a pair that marked the end of the Appian Way, the main road between Rome and southern Italy.
Torre del Parco (\"Park Tower\") is one of the medieval symbols of Lecce. It was erected in 1419. The tower, standing at more than 23 meters, is surrounded by a ditch in which bears (araldic symbol of the Orsini del Balzo) were reared. The whole complex was the seat of Orsinis tribunal and of a mint, and after Giovanni Antonios death, it became a residence for the Spanish viceroys.
The Castle of Charles V was built in 1539-49 by Gian Giacomo dellAcaja. It has a trapezoidal plan with angular bastions. It is attached to the Politeama Greco Opera House, inaugurated on November 15, 1884.
The Arco di Trionfo, commonly called Porta Napoli, erected in 1548 in honor of Charles V. It replaced an older gate, Porta S. Giusto, which, according the tradition, lied over the tomb of the namesake saint.