Lecce, Italy - What To See And Do
Rural, Rustic . . . . . Regal
Lecce pronounced "lay-chay", is the pride of the Puglia Region in southern Italy and is one of the most important cities in Italy. Not widely known outside of Italy, it is one of those rare finds that needs to be shouted about as lives are touched when this “Pearl of the Baroque” is discovered.
The passion that was demonstrated centuries ago here in its architectural splendour, is alive and well, and still beats oh so strong in the Leccese people.
I have put together some must see sights and things to do with a few tips along the way to show you the very best Lecce has to offer and to make this a trip you will never forget. Italy's best kept secret and it's sheer domination of the Baroque style of architecture has won respect throughout the world, and here is a glimpse why.
Night at The Basilica
Basilica Di Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross)
Here it seems the stonemasons must have been a “sandwich short of a picnic”, on some type of “trip” or had a little too much Vino Rosso (red wine)!!!! Constructed over two centuries, the facade of the Church is quite mind blowing, under the guidance of Giuseppe Zimbalo, one of Lecce’s finest architects and sculptors. Trying to understand it or make sense of it doesn’t work! What meets you is an assortment of gremlins, sheep, dodos, cherubs and other beasties interlinked by what you assume to be is a purpose!! These sculptures are lit up at night and are an even more impressive sight not to be missed. Make sure you don’t forget about the interior of the church, once you can drag yourself away from the facade. The interior is breathtaking and more traditional Renaissance in design and a wonderful example of why Lecce is so closely linked with Florence.
Classed as the main Piazza, it was dedicated to and named after Lecce’s patron Saint in 1656. Today a large statue may be seen in the middle of the Piazza depicting him blessing the city. Beautiful mosaic paving adorns the Piazza and a cocktail of mixed architectural splendour, dating from the middle ages to the 14th century, surrounds on all sides. Throughout the summer the city puts on free daily concerts here, anything from Classical to Jazz. A real focal point of the city for locals and visitors alike and is home to the amazing Roman Amphitheatre.
The Roman Amphitheatre
The Roman Amphitheatre is a sight to behold. Found below the Piazza Sant’Oronzo, in 1901 by a construction worker, it dates back to the 2nd Century A.D. Following excavation works in the 1930’s, a horseshoe shaped theatre, with a capacity to seat 25,000 people was uncovered.
Part of it remains hidden due to other buildings now existing on top of it. Being situated in a Piazza makes it so accessible for all to marvel at and imagine times of old. I sat leisurely over a Cafe Latte or two, doing just that. Today, believe it or not, concerts and ballets are still performed here, so if you get the opportunity to attend a performance, go for it!
Piazza del Duomo
Baroque Architecture At The PiazzaClick thumbnail to view full-size
One of my favourite Piazzas’ here and sometimes referred to as Cathedral Square, Piazza del Duomo is a beautiful large square full of character and baroque features on all sides. Almost completely sealed off, It was used in the early days as a safe haven by all the townsfolk to congregate in when Invaders came a knocking. A favourite for taking a stroll around as part of the Italian custom and tradition of La Passeggiata.
Home to the magnificent 12th century, Duomo di Lecce (The Lecce Cathedral) with its magical 68 m high Bell Tower, it is believed to have been the great Giuseppe Zimbalo’s finest work. What is very unique about this Cathedral is the fact it has two facades, one on the west side and a very ornate one on the front facing into the Piazza. There is much to see inside and the Crypt is well worth seeing. There are stunning columns all unique to each other, beautiful Paintings and magnificent tiles.
The attention to detail given during the recent restoration work is evident in bucket loads The Cathedral lies nicely with the 15th century Palazzo Vescoville (Episcopal Palace) and the Palazzo del Seminario (The Seminar Palace) which are just two of approximately 40 Palace’s in the city, which makes for a dramatic and engaging landscape of architectural brilliance when you consider there are a similar amount of churches here also!
Churches of Lecce
Lecce is home to a staggering 40 or more churches so needless to say, if you blink you may just miss one!! Not a big problem since along the next cobblestoned lane and around the corner another one will be awaiting! There are a few, however, worth mentioning to put on the radar for you as ones not to miss.
Chiesa dei San Niccolo e Cataldo (Church of San Niccolo and Cataldo)
This church was founded by Tantred, the King of Sicily in 1180 and is a great example of Italo-Norman architecture. An Exquisite example of craftsmanship having had the facade rebuilt in 1716 and additions made with the inclusions of a number of statues, giving it the Baroque feel by the prolific Cino, but he retained the very Romanesque portal and rose window.
Chiesa di Sant’Irene (Church of Saint Irene)
Recently under renovations, this church features a magnificent matching pair of baroque altarpieces, looking as if they are sizing each other up across the transept.
Chiesa di San Matteo (Church of Saint Matthew)
Built in 1667 by Artist Giovanni Andrea Lorducci in Baroque style, this church is very striking when you first see it as it has a concave and convex structure. Inside it has an incredible nine altars.
Suzie's Tips for Lecce
Siesta – Be aware that siesta is very much part of life here and in the Puglia Region. From 12 noon most shops, cafes, and other businesses will close for 4 or 5 hour and come to life again later in the evening. I got caught out with places I felt would not close but did, so you have been warned! Plan your days so you are not looking for bottled water, shopping, food or services in the afternoon.
Dinner – Italians eat very late, often not before 9 or even 10pm and it’s very common to see the entire Italian family out in restaurants, including young children. Family is numero uno to Italians and next is food. I remember going to get a pizza to find at 8pm the pizza oven at the restaurant was not even on, as it was too early.
Coperto – This is a charge that is added automatically in restaurants, unless you say no thank you. It works like a “covers charge”, and you will pay anything from €1 - €3 euro per person for basically just sitting at the table, but more often than not they bring bottled water and breads you may think are “free”, so its these that you say no to before you delve in, unless you want it. Just be aware of it at the end of the meal on the check.
Parking in Lecce – Keep an eye out for car parks as there are virtually no cars in the centre of Lecce, and is predominantly a pedestrian zone. You are better to park up and walk to the centre, otherwise you will be trying to navigate tiny one way streets for hours!
Tourist Information – Situated on Via Leonardo Prato it is a great place to touch base with for anything to do with Lecce and the area. You can book accommodation, excursions, get maps, hire bicycles and even organise airport transfers to name a few. The staff are friendly and helpful and will steer you in the right direction or check them out on the web beforehand.
Lecce has something for everyone and makes a great base for exploring the delights of the south from and there are many well worth seeing. This “Florence of Southern Italy” is firmly on the map and will continue to amaze visitors forever.
© 2012 Suzanne Ridgeway