The first time we visited Puglia we drove through the outskirts of Lecce, the traffic was heavy and there was no apparent regard for any highway code! Our impressions of Lecce on that occasion were not good and we struck it off our list of places to visit. It wasn't until we arranged to look at property in August 2005 that we took a second look at Lecce, and discovered what we had been missing.
Originally the site of a Greek settlement, Lecce became an important centre of the Roman Empire. Lecce, capital of Salento, has always been considered the most noble city in Puglia, admired for it's fine cultural heritage reflected in its churches and palazzi.
Having been described as "Athens in Apulia" and "Florence of Baroque", Lecce defines and is defined by the Baroque, a term which is often used to describe the strange and exceptionally bizarre. The Lecce Baroque style flourished in the 17th century and much of the architecture is in that style. Local materials lend warm and delicate yellow tones, carefully worked by Baroque masters, have resulted in an abundance of churches and other buildings not to be missed. Be sure to look upwards as you stroll through the historic centre of Lecce, it is impossible not to admire the crenellated balconies, the small designs following one another on the the twisted columns. You will see thousands of strange figures supporting carbels, architraves and abeations.
Be sure not to miss the Basilica of Santa Croce, full of ornamental designs including eagles, dragons, monkeys, saints, the Turks, flowers, fruits, flattering ribbons, twisted columns and open-work balustrades. This is considered by many to be the symbol of Salentine baroque.
Include in your itinerary the Piazza del Duomo, one of the most beautiful Italian squares. On one side is the 72 metres high Bell-Tower which can be seen from many kilometres away. The tower has five tapered floors, all surrounded by banisters made of typical Lecce stone. See also one side of the Duomo with it's wide portal in the middle of two columns. The niches contain statues of the joint patron saints of the city,San Giusto on the left and San Fortunato on the right.
Throughout the historic centre you will see the palazzi built by powerful local families between 17th and 18th century. And as you would expect there are many museums to visit.
If your visit coincides with lunchtime or is in the evening, as you stroll the streets of Lecce, you will be tempted by the wonderful aromas of Salentine cuisine. You will be spoilt for choice by the many wonderful restaurants and trattoria some of which are tucked away in the small winding streets. One of our favourites is the Alle due Corti but there are many others to choose from.
If you are visiting Puglia, don't miss out on a visit to Lecce. Voted one of the top ten cities to visit in 2010 by MSN Travel and Lonely Planet, Lecce should be on the top of your must do list for your Puglia vacation. Read more here
Martha's Italy Travel Blog a useful source of information and photos - find Martha's top sights in Lecce here.
The Lecce open courtyards scheme in Puglia has been running for 15 years and each year open courtyards are combined with cultural events such as live classical concerts in the courtyards and churches. The palazzi and churchyards are open to the public, usually Mid May. The website, in Italian, can be found at www.leccenelsalento.it/cortili-aperti
James' Europe Travel Blog features Lecce, nice pictures and links to lots more information.