A Taste of Puglia – Lecce
Lecce is in the South of Puglia and is the center of the Salento area. It is known as ‘The Florence of the South’ because of its beautiful architecture, lovely Duomo and magnificent Baroque churches.
Most of the buildings in the old town are made from Lecce stone giving them a unique and warm hue. The old town is a joy to wander around and lose yourself in, with amazing sights around every corner and at every turn.
I wandered around for hours, soaking up the history, the beauty and the wonderful aromas.
Things to See in Lecce
Piazzo del Duomo
This is one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. Enclosed on 3 sides, it houses the Duomo di Lecce, the Bell Tower, the Bishop’s Palace and the Seminary Palace.
Duomo di Lecce
The city’s magnetic cathedral. Originally built in 1144, it was beauty restored in 1659 in the beautiful baroque style for which Lecce is so famous. The master architect Giuseppe Zimbalo built this and his signature can be seen on many more of Lecce’s baroque gems.
You can buy a ticket to visit the beautiful interior and also the crypt.
The Bell Tower
This was added later and was built on the site of a Norman cathedral which collapsed. It was built between 1661 and 1682 and is 72 metres high.
The Bishop’s Palace
Next to the Duomo, this is home to the Archbishop of Lecce.
The Seminary Palace
This former palace now contains the Museum of Sacred Art with artwork and old manuscripts. There is also a lovely little courtyard.
It is also here where you buy entrance tickets to the Cathedral and other attractions. The best value is the ticket at 9 Euros which allows you entrance to the cathedral and its crypt and many other churches and museums.
Bassilica di Santa Croce
One of the most beautiful buildings in Puglia and one of the most beautiful churches I have seen. The building of the basilica was completed in 1695 over 150 years after it was started. Again it is made from Lecce stone giving it a rich warm hue.
Decorated in the beautiful Baroque style, so intricate and so ornate. The balcony is supported by dragons, griffin, bears and men holding it on their shoulders.
The interior contains many ornate baroque altars. Over one is a painting of Saint’Oronzo saving Lecce from an earthquake in 1748.
Another of Lecce’s beautiful baroque churches. This is famous for the ceiling being made from papier mache. The art of papier mache making has been practiced in Lecce for centuries and local craftsman continue the craft today.
A nearby street still contains many old workshop where the ceiling sections were created. It is named the Art papier mache street. Around the city you will see many paper mache statues and there is also a museum at the castle.
Also included in the 9 euro ticket price and worth a look. A pretty little church with statuses of the 12 apostles.
Chiesa di Santa Irene
Situated near the Roman amphitheatre and dedicated to Lecce’s former patron saint, this was one of my favorite churches, simply beautiful. A lady outside gave me free biscuits everyday too.
Church of San Niccolo dei Greco
This was the church for the Greek and Albania residents of the city.
There are many more beautiful churches dotted around the old town. There are also many other things to see.
The Roman Theatre
This was discovered by accident early in the 20th century when workers were laying pipework for the construction of a bank. Two thirds of it has been uncovered. It is not possible to excavate it fully, as part of it lies beneath old buildings and churches which can’t be demolished.
It was used for gladiatorial combat, contests between men and animals such as bulls and bears and executions. It was able to seat up to 14,000 people.
When I was wandering around, I found a smaller amphitheatre, I’m not sure if this was part of the same complex.
The Castle of Lecce
This is known as the Carlo V Castle after Emperor Charles 5th. Today it is mainly used for cultural shows and events and exhibitions.
When I visited there were 2 exhibitions. The 1st was an exhibition of photography by the photo journalist Massimo Sestini. He captured some of the most fascinating recent events as well as lovely landscapes. Some of the shots he took from a helicopter.
There is a wonderful shot of the sunken Costa Concordia and of a boatload of refugees he helped to rescue. Over 5 years he tracked down 10 of these refugees and made a documentary following their journey. I absolutely loved his work.
The other exhibition was by the painter Gianserio Strafella. I love art that is vibrant and full of colour and his works certainly were.
Also here are original murals on the castle wall.
You can take a guided tour of the castle too. It’s is well worth it. It covers a lot of areas, many underground.
The most interesting for me was the dungeon. On its walls are images etched by prisoners over the centuries, carved from the stone using animal bones.
The castle also housed a military garrison at one stage and there are also remnants of their stay.
The tour also includes the paper maiche museum.
Legend has it that in the 14th century Orsini del Balzo kept a polar bear in the moat!
The tour takes around an hour and costs 8 euros.
Also built for a state visit by Charles V in 1548, it is the main city gate, also known as the triumphal arch.
Behind the gate is an obelisk erected for the Spanish King Fernando 1.
The most enjoyable thing for me in Lecce was just to wander and lose myself in the maze of streets in the old town, coming across hidden gems, quirky art work and beautiful Palazzos.
Where to stay in Lecce
I stayed at Sui Tetti Luxury Rooms. It was in the perfect spot in a quiet street in the old town, yet minutes walk from the major sights. It was very reasonably priced with spacious and beautifully decorated rooms. I really liked the bedside tables made from solid stone.
The other selling point for me was the large rooftop terrace, complete with jacuzzi. I spent a very happy evening in the hot tub with a bottle of Prosecco, bubbles of every kind.
The terrace was also a lovely spot for breakfast with accompanying views over the rooftops of the old town and it’s church towers.
Food and Drink in Lecce
Lecce is full of lovely restaurants, bars and cafes, both traditional and modern, too numerous to mention.
Local dishes to try include the orecciette pasta they make here, called ‘little ears’. Also the local pastries stuffed with ham, mozzarella, tomato and bechamel sauce.
The area is also known for extremely good red wines, including Primitivo. They also make excellent crafts beers.
Lecce is a beautiful city and truly deserves it nickname of the Florence of the South. It is wonderful to lose yourself in the old town and everything is in walking distance. I would say go now before more people discover how wonderful it is.