Lecce is ready to be discovered

Where are you going for your summer vacation? Still have no ideas?

Well, if you’re looking for some inspiration you should read this article…. Maybe Lecce could be your next ideal destination!
Situated in Apulia, a beautiful region in Southern Italy, Lecce is rich in fantastic places touched by a crystalline sea that transmits a true joie de vivre.
Let’s start the discovery of this amazing city situated in the heart of Salento (here a useful infographic about the region), a city known as “the Florence of the South” or as the “Lady of the Baroque“. Lecce is in fact characterized by the Baroque art that impresses visitors thanks to the pietra leccese, the local stone used in many churches, monuments and historic houses of the old town centre.
Here is a list of the most important historic and artistic sites to visit, as well as the things you absolutely have to buy, eat and drink if you want to say “yes, I’m really in Lecce!”
So…Ready… Steady… Go!

Saint Orontius Square in Lecce

Saint Orontius Square in Lecce

Saint Orontius Square in Lecce Photo CC by Shaun Merritt

Following Corso Vittorio Emanuele, you can reach Piazza Sant’Oronzo. It’s the main square of Lecce and it’s considered the heart of the city life thanks to its numerous cafés, shops and offices. Characterized by the mosaic pavement, where is represented the emblem of the city, the square is composed by different buildings erected between the middle ages and the nineteenth century. Even if each building has its own architectural style, they coexist harmoniously.
Since 1656 the square is dedicated to Saint Orontius (Sant’Oronzo in Italian), the patron saint of the city. It’s for this reason that in the middle of the square there’s the statue of the Saint in the act of blessing the city.

The Cathedral of Lecce


Lecce Cathedral and Piazza del Duomo -Photo CC BY-SA 3.0 By tango7174

The Cathedral of Lecce is located in the homonymous square and represents the core of the city’s religious life . The Cathedral was first built in 1144, with repairs carried out in 1230 and it’s dedicated to the Assumption of the Saint Virgin Mary. In 1659, it was completely rebuilt by the architect Giuseppe Zimbalo at the behest of Bishop Luigi Pappacoda, whose remains are preserved in the altar dedicated to Saint Orontius.
From the architectural point of view, the Cathedral has two entrances, the main one on the left side and the other one overlooking the entrance to the square. The main façade is sober and elegant, in spite of the secondary portal that represents one of Lecce masterpieces of Baroque art, with the statue of Saint Orontius between the two statues of Saint Justus and Saint Fortunatus.
The Cathedral is built on a Latin cross plan, with three naves separated by columns and semi-columns. The central nave and the transept are covered by a wooden ceiling: here you can admire the painting representing the Martyrdom of Saint Orontius and the Last Supper. The Cathedral holds art works of important artists and twelve altars.
Among the other monuments that enhance the beauty of the square there are the highest belfry of Italy, the bishop’s palace and the seminary. The Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Lecce.

The Castle of Charles V

The Castle of Charles V

The Castle of Charles V – Public Domain Photo

In the nearby of Sant’Oronzo Square is situated the Castle of Charles V, built by King Charles V in 1539. The building was designed by the architect Gian Giacomo dell’Acaya and required the demolition of the Chapel of the Trinity and the Monastery of the Benedictine Order of the Saint Cross. After having been used as military barracks and district from 1870 to 1979, today the castle is owned by the Municipality of Lecce and it’s seat of the Cultural Affairs: the castle is a perfect scenography for various cultural activities and host theatrical productions.
Visitors will be surely charmed by the refined decoration of the interiors: the capitals and the big room are decorated with impressive stained glass windows. Maybe you don’t know that a curious legend is linked to the history of the castle: it seems in fact that in the 14th century the owner of the castle, the family Balzo Orsini, kept a white bear in the moat of the building. The animal was a status symbol, and it was used to scare prowlers.

Useful information:
Free entrance from 9.30 am to 6 pm
Address: Via XXV luglio, near Piazza Sant’Oronzo

The Roman Amphitheatre of Lecce

Roman Amphitheatre

Roman Amphitheatre – Photo CC by zobl_vie

Situated near Saint Orontius Square, the Amphitheater of Lecce was built in the 2nd century BC and it is a relevant testimony of the Roman period. The building was completely buried by rubble following earthquakes and ravages and only at the end of World War II, thanks to some excavations, was unearthed. The visible building is now just a third of the entire structure that is probably still submerged in the subsoil of the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. The Amphitheatre was built with travertine pillars topped by an arched architecture and it was able to seat more than 25,000 people. Among the sculptural works of particular interest that have been recovered, there’s the statue of the goddess Athena that is now displayed at the Museo Castromediano. The Amphitheatre of Lecce is currently used for religious and art events.

Useful information:
You can visit the Roman Amphitheatre in April, May and September from 10:30 am to 12:00 am and from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.
From June to August, entrance is allowed from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
In addition, during the closing period you can visit it by appointment.

Where to sleep

You can choose among a wide range of accommodation in Lecce: hotels, bed and breakfasts, farmhouses and rooms. It’s up to you, it depends on your budget! You can choose if you want to sleep surrounded by the artistic attractions of the city spending a little more or if you prefer less central but cheaper areas , like the one near the station. In the province of Lecce, there is also the possibility to sleep in beautiful holiday cottages.

What to buy: the ancient handicraft tradition of Lecce

Lecce has an ancient tradition of craftsmanship that it’s still alive. People can find various items in the typical shops of the old town, but I suggest you to visit one of the local permanent exhibitions where you can discover the historic artisan tradition not only of Lecce, but also of the entire Salento.
Wrought iron, copper, terracotta, cane are all simple materials which are incredibly used to create common objects for the daily life, as well as creations that are considered by some truly little works of art. Every last Sunday of the month, however, in Piazza Libertini you can find a picturesque antique market: hundreds of stalls where you can find pottery and artifacts of ancient tradition.

In particular, Lecce is known for two handicraft activities: the papier-mâché and the working of the local stone.
The tradition of the papier-mâché is closely linked to the Church, as these production techniques have been used in the past to strengthen the local religious sentiment. In fact, these techniques are usually required for the reproduction of statues and holy figures.
Regarding the local stones, however, its accurate production is easily visible on the façades of churches and local palaces. The pietra leccese, the stones of Lecce, is still worked by the masons that create original forms still linked to the local tradition. For their knowledge, the mason can be considered true artists-artisans.

Food and wine of Lecce: what to eat and drink

The cuisine is characterized by the use of simple ingredients as refined flour or barley, vegetables that are both wild (wild chicory, dandelion, wild asparagus, etc) and cultivated (cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, turnip greens, etc), olive oil and Mediterranean spices  for example sage, mint, oregano, rosemary, marjoram which can really enhance the flavour of each dish.
Among the typical dishes you absolutely have to taste in Lecce, I strongly recommend you try:

  • the rustico leccese, a dish composed by two discs of puff pastry stuffed with mozzarella cheese, béchamel, tomato, pepper and nutmeg;
  • the puccia, a durum wheat bread round shaped that needs to be filled;
  • the orecchiette, a kind of home-made pasta typical of the Apulia region whose name comes from its shape, which resembles a small ear.

As for desserts, they are all delicious and they are mainly made with ingredients such as almonds, honey and cinnamon that are typical in the Eastern world. Apart from the famous pasticciotto leccese, a cake made with puff pastry and custard which must be eaten hot, there is an infinity of delights prepared with almond paste that you have to taste in Lecce.
Concerning the choice of wines to drink, you are strongly advised to try NegramaroSalice Salentino , Primitivo di Manduria, the Malvasia, Matino, just to mention some local wines characterized by the richness of colour and flavour. All these wines are simply divine!

So… What are you waiting for? Prepare your luggage because Lecce is ready to warmly welcome you!


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