Lecce: the city of the Baroque, churches and scents of the Mediterranean. One of Italy’s most fascinating open-air museums, this city is ideal all year round for a holiday break to enjoy culture, food, and wine.
Looking forward to a relaxing weekend full of culture, art and great food? Plan your trip with Italo to the Baroque pearl of Salento, Lecce: one of Italy’s most beautiful art cities and a summer vacation destination thanks to its beautiful coastline and crystal clear sea. Lecce is a city rich in remains and works of art from Roman, medieval and Renaissance eras and is a gateway to the Maldives of Italy.
You will arrive in the ancient Lupiae, as the Romans called it, the city of stylistic excess, scenic splendor, and that embraces visitors all-year-round. It is located in the heel of Italy, a narrow strip of land dividing the Ionian and Adriatic Seas! Admire its baroque churches, the art of papier-mâché and Lecce stonework. Enjoy food and wine delicacies, breathtaking views, and the fun of the nightlife. Lecce is a university town, full of young people and people-friendly – you can easily visit it in a day, including an out-of-town trip to a coastal destination.
Here are ten things to do and see on a day trip to Lecce:
- Historic center of Lecce: the gates, churches, and stately buildings
- The Roman Amphitheater
- The Roman Theater
- Piazza Sant’Oronzo: the Seat, the Column and the Church of San Marco
- Piazza Duomo: the Cathedral, the Crypt, the Bell Tower and the Ancient Seminary
- Basilica of Santa Croce and the Celestine Convent
- The Castle of Charles V
- The Giuseppe Garibaldi Public Gardens
- Salento: the sun, the sea, the wind and… the fun
- Where to stay and what to eat in Lecce
Start this day tour of Lecce from the historic center and specifically from Porta Napoli, an Arch of Triumph city gate erected in 1548 in honor of Charles V, with the 19th-century Obelisk facing it. Enter the old town and admire the Church of San Luigi Gonzaga, the 19th-century Paisiello Theater, a typical example of an Italianate structure, and the splendid Baroque Palazzo Palmieri.
Continue your walk through the most beautiful streets of the old town and admire the facades of the splendid noble palaces, and don’t miss a visit to the craft stores. Here you will find objects in papier-mâché and Lecce stone made by local artisans. Continue on foot and pause to look at and visit the Church of Santa Maria della Provvidenza, the Church of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, the Church of San Niccolò dei Greci, the Palazzo Adorno and the Basilica of Santa Croce, the symbol of the city and of Lecce Baroque with the adjoining former Convent of the Celestines.
Reach the central hub of the city, Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the beating heart of city life, and admire the famous column of the patron saint and the Roman Amphitheater. From there, proceed to Piazzetta Vittorio Emanuele II, also known as Piazzetta Santa Chiara, a veritable treasure trove of art, and admire the church of the same name. From the small square, which is characterized by a bustling nightlife, proceed either to the Roman Theater or to Lecce’s second gate: Porta San Biagio without missing the Church of San Matteo, Palazzo Vernazza and Palazzo Giustiniani.
Then head to the scenic Cathedral Square and see the Cathedral‘s opulent side facade and its tall Bell Tower, the 15th-century Bishop’s Palace and the Seminary Building dating from the 18th century, now home to the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, the Innocentian Library and the Diocesan Historical Archives.
From here, finish the tour of the historic center in Porta Rudiae, the oldest and most interesting of Lecce’s city gates. During your stroll, admire the three churches that precede it: Church of Santa Teresa, Church of Sant’Anna and the Basilica of the Rosary.
If you’re a garden lover, immerse yourself in the city’s green lung, the Villa Comunale of Lecce, known as the Villa della Lupa, and if you’re in the mood for some shopping, head for the most modern part of the city, Piazza Mazzini surrounded by many stores with its majestic Fountain in the center.
The Roman Amphitheater
One of the must-see destinations on your visit to Lecce is in the heart of the city, in Piazza Sant’Oronzo: the Roman Amphitheater, which testifies to the importance attained by the ancient Lupiae in the Age of Imperial Rome. The Amphitheater was discovered in the early 20th century, and you can see about a third of the original building, with part of the arena and cavea, while the remainder is hidden partly under the present square and partly under the blocks where the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Sedile – the Seat – and Renaissance-style buildings stand. The large Roman structure was capable of accommodating about 20,000 spectators who watched gladiator fights and simulated hunts of wild animals brought in by sea and landed at the Port of San Cataldo.In modern times it has been used as a place to stage the winters Nativity scene, for musical and theatrical events during the summer, and to celebrate the victories of the local U.S. Lecce soccer team.
Another monument of historical significance that you must not miss is the Roman Theater, discovered by chance in 1929 and hidden among the buildings in the Baroque city, a stone’s throw from Piazza Sant’Oronzo and the Duomo. Built in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the theater was originally large enough to hold perhaps 5,000 spectators who would attend tragedies and plays there. An interesting fact is that it’s the only Roman theater in Puglia but despite this, few people know about it. Adjoining the theater, you will find the Roman Theater Museum, established by the Memmo Foundation, which displays some artifacts found during excavations, the exhibit entitled Rome – a life scene, some theater masks from Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, and a model of Lecce in the Age of Imperial Rome.
There’s a charge for admission to the Museum, with guided tour on request, Monday through Saturday from 9.30 am to 1.00 pm. Afternoon visits are by reservation only.
After visiting the Roman archaeological finds, stop at Lecce’s most important square: Piazza Sant’Oronzo, a square of many different layers and styles that now coexist together. In ancient times, Piazza Sant’Oronzo had a different layout: the location of the current Amphitheater was occupied by a small hamlet that was destroyed during archaeological excavations. Since 1656, the square has been named after the patron saint of Lecce, Saint Oronzo following the ravages of the plague.
Admire the majestic Column, 29 meters high, made in Brindisi with materials obtained from two Roman columns. A bronze statue dedicated to the patron saint was erected on it in 1666, designed by Giuseppe Zimbalo as a votive offering of the citizenry. To the right of the column, you will find the 16th-century Seat, a majestic cubic building, and the small Church of St. Mark a little late Renaissance jewel from 1543 founded by a Venetian colony. In addition, admire the Fascist architecture of the INA Building that follows the curve of the Amphitheater, and stroll under its arcades, the Bank of Italy Building, and in one corner of the square, remember to take a picture of the clock with the world’s largest clock face made of bronze and enamel by artist Francesco Barbieri.
From Piazza Sant’Oronzo, head for Lecce Cathedraland stroll along the Corso among stores, other historic buildings and the Church of St. Irene, named after the city’s patron saint up to 1656. Piazza Duomo, formerly the Roman Forum, is one of the most interesting enclosed squares in Italy; it has a single entrance and is flanked by signature Lecce Baroque architecture. Admire the Bell Tower and the facades of the Cathedral, the Episcopate and the Ancient Seminary. Visit the cathedral, founded in 1144, rebuilt in 1230 in Romanesque style, and later in Baroque style by Zimbalo in 1659, dedicated to Mary of the Assumption. Don’t miss the 92 columns of the Crypt, located under the chancel of the cathedral and dedicated to Our Lady of the Stairs, dating back to 1517, and the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art in the Ancient Seminary, where you can admire paintings, sacred silverware, sculptures, liturgical vestments and, in the inner portico, the magnificent well.
The museum is open from April to September from 09.00 am to 9.00 pm every day, and from October to March from 09.00 am to 6.00 pm. The ticket cost is €9 and includes the LeccEcclesiae tour: Duomo, Santa Croce, Santa Chiara, San Matteo and Museum of Sacred Art.
A must-see on your visit to Lecce is the most significant building of Lecce Baroque architecture: the Basilica of Santa Croce, one of the most important and admired churches in Lecce, completed in 1699. Behold its splendid facade, a veritable manifesto of artistic virtuosity and technical expertise. It affords an unexpected view, a show of stone in which you can notice the splendid columns and balcony with balustrades along with a wealth of decorations, bas-reliefs, and sculptures in Lecce stone, the work of Cesare Penna based on a design by Giuseppe Zimbalo. Admire the large rose window, decorated with floral friezes, bunches of fruit and cherubs. Visit the interior with its Latin cross plan, hemispherical dome, and three naves divided by columns with carved capitals, wooden ceiling, rich interior furnishings, and the altar of St. Francis of Paola, decorated with twelve bas-reliefs depicting the Saint’s life. Adjacent to the Basilica of Santa Croce, you find the Palazzo dei Celestini, for three centuries home to the convent of the Celestine Fathers; also known as the Government Palace, it is now the seat of the Prefecture and the Lecce Provincial Administration. It is a baroque-style palazzo; also in this case, designed by Giuseppe Zimbalo in the same style as the church facade. In short, a unique scenic square that leaves you speechless.
The Castle of Charles V is another wonder of this city. It was erected in the 16th century at the behest of the ruler and in response to the need for defense against enemy attacks, both as a symbol of the king’s greatness and power. Behold this imposing and massive structure that stands out prominently in the city’s urban layout and the splendid Fountain of Harmony.
You can visit the castle from June and September, Monday through Friday from 9.00 am to 9.00 pm, and Saturday, Sunday, and holidays from 9.30 am to 9.00 pm. July and August Monday through Friday from 9.00 am to 11.00 pm and Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 9.30 am to 11.00 pm. The cost of the full ticket is €5.
For a relaxing break, head to the Giuseppe Garibaldi Public Gardens, better known as Villa Comunale or Villa della Lupa. The Villa, built in the early 19th century, is currently structured as one of the largest and most beautiful Italian gardens in the city. Admire the various fountains, marble and stone busts, plants, ancient trees, and a circular temple, and enjoy watching the little ones in the two play areas. It is strategically located – you can reach it from the nearby old town and then arrive in the new part of town and indulge in some shopping or visit another important square: Piazza Mazzini and its majestic stone fountain.
Over the past 15 years, Lecce’s coastal Salento area has become Italy’s most popular seaside destination thanks to the beauty of the sea and the hospitality of its inhabitants. From Lecce you can reach some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with crystal clear waters that you find only in a few other places in the Mediterranean: Punta Prosciutto, Punta della Suina , Porto Selvaggio, Porto Cesareo, Santa Cesarea Terme, Santa Caterina, Castro, Torre dell’Orso, Leuca. Visit the villages – some very famous, like Otranto and Gallipoli, but also less well-known ones with stunning stonework backdrops like Galatina, Nardò, Presicce, and Specchia.
In Lecce, the booming tourism scene has created a wealth of hospitality facilities. Today, the Apulian city offers you a great range of hotels, bed&breakfasts, agritourisms and in the historic center even luxury hotels. But you also have a great alternative: old farmhouses just outside the city, near the sea or among olive trees. They are mostly old renovated farmhouses, many of them with swimming pool.
Finally, in Lecce, you simply must try the excellent cuisine: from the fruits of the earth and sea to the spices of the Mediterranean maquis to vegetables and legumes cooked in an earthenware pot, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and served with friselle, a toasted, biscuit-like bread. Remember to try rustico leccese, two puff pastry disks filled with mozzarella cheese, béchamel sauce, tomato, pepper and nutmeg. Try taralli, focaccia, cheeses, mozzarella; sample puccia, a small, round wheat bread that, if it is not to be stuffed, includes black olives in the dough. For desserts, enjoy the world-famous pasticciotto leccese, which should be eaten strictly hot, and try a host of delights prepared with almond paste. For wines, taste Negramaro, Salice Salentino, and Primitivo di Manduria, which are just some of the native Salento wines that stand out for their full-bodied color and flavor. In short, in Lecce, you can fully satisfy your palate and experience days of good taste, beauty, culture, and fun all year round!
To Lecce with Italo
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