Lying on a plain at the foot of the Salento Plateau is Lecce – the “Florence of the South” – one of the most interesting cities in the region for its architecture, typical of the 17th Century.
Of ancient origins, the city experienced two distinct periods of prosperity in its history: the Roman era and that of the rule of the Kingdom of Naples. Under both, construction of buildings, monuments and mansions increased heavily. These new structures were characterized by a magnificent and rich ornamentation that earned this typical architecture the definition of “Leccese Baroque.” The imaginative and meticulous sculpting work was facilitated by the use of local stone, flexible and easy to inlay.
A visit to Lecce can begin with Piazza Duomo, once used as a fortress and today considered the most elegant “salon” in the city. The grandeur of the Duomo, work of Zimbalo, Cino and Penna, the five-story tall bell tower, the Palazzo Vescovile (Bishop’s Palace) and the Palazzo del Seminario (Seminary) mark the perimeter of the square, one of the monumental works that best represents the magnificence of Lecce’s style.
Not far away, Piazza Sant’Oronzo narrates the city’s entire history. The Roman period is visible in the ruins of the Amphitheatre that becomes the exceptional stage for theatrical performances in summertime, and in part by the high Column – on which stands a bronze of St. Orontius, depicted in the act of blessing – erected in the 17th Century utilizing some of the Roman columns positioned on the Ancient Appian Way. Symbol of the Renaissance is Palazzo del Seggio, known as the “Seat,” which today hosts important art exhibitions, and the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, with its interesting frescoes and works sculpted in wood.
Behind the piazza, the Castle of Charles V, a typical defensive structure that counters its austere external design with the style and sophistication of elegant interior architecture. Imposing and majestic is the Porta Rudiae, crowned with statues of Saint Orontius, Saint Irene and Saint Dominic, with two pairs of columns located on either side of the central arch, behind which stands the Chiesa del Rosario (Church of the Rosary), striking the eye with the artistic imagination of its grand façade.
Not to be missed is a visit to the Basilica di Santa Croce, where the inspiration of master masonry is visible in every part of the monumental façade that anticipates the beauty of its interior, a harmonious balance between the sobriety of the classical style and the splendor of Lecce’s Baroque.
Between San Cataldo and Otranto, the Adriatic coast offers landscapes of extraordinary beauty: white cliffs contrast with the blue of the sea and are interrupted occasionally by a sandy shoreline, the green of the maquis or pools of brackish water separated from the sea by narrow strips of land.
Arriving in Otranto, we recommend a visit to the historic city center, surrounded by mighty walls and dominated by the Castle built in the 15th Century by Ferdinand I of Aragon, as well as the Cathedral with a beautiful mosaic floor (12th Century) depicting the history of the period. A dense maze of narrow cobbled alleys and streets is at the heart of Otranto, where the white of the houses is mixed with the colors of the many craft and souvenir shops.
Porto Cesareo, Gallipoli and Torre San Giovanni are some of the province’s pearls of the Ionian coast, with Santa Maria di Leuca to mark the boundary between Apulia’s two seas. Between Otranto and Gallipoli, the strength of wind and water has carved the limestone cliffs, giving rise to evocative natural caves like Grotta Zinzulusa, full of stalactites and stalagmites, the Grotta Grande del Ciolo and the caves of the Natural Park of Porto Selvaggio.
But the generosity of the territory of Lecce is not limited to the artistic beauties and those natural along the coastline. Even inland areas, with their vast landscapes, natural sites and important prehistoric remains, offer many opportunities that should not be underestimated if one decides to take a vacation Salento, one of the spearheads among Italian tourist destinations.