All of Puglia is wonderful, but Lecce may be my favourite city in the region. Its venerable history, exquisite architecture and traditional, agricultural economy combine to create a fascinating mix of archaic grandeur and simple, earthy charm.
From Myth to History
Due to its strategic position at the Aegean ‘heel’ of Italy, the city has passed into the hands of successive settlers and invaders. It was inhabited as early as the Bronze Age war of Troy (according to legend, at least) and was substantially rebuilt by Hadrian in the second century AD. Since then, it’s seen its fair share of Goths, Saracens and Lombards, weathering all these storms in distinctive, southern Italian style
In Praise of Limestone
Alongside the beguiling remains of these diverse eras, including the Roman amphitheatre that’s still used for cultural events, it’s the Baroque architecture of Lecce that draws loyal visitors back to the city, time and again.
The story starts in the seventeenth century, when the area’s rich seam of limestone was used to construct sparkling, pearlescent buildings like the decorations on some fabulously ornate wedding cake. As I’ve explored in another blog post, the same limestone is used to build the famous hobbit-like ‘trulli’ houses of the region, and it’s fascinating to see the versatility of this humble material. It must be the secret to Puglia’s special beauty.
Here are just a couple of the architectural marvels we visit on the tour:
Basilica di Santa Croce
When I say this church took two hundred years to build, I’m hoping to conjure just a fraction of its humbling and awe-inspiring majesty. Appliqued with carvings of animals and mythical beasts, it’s a place of worship in the truest sense of the word.
I’m sure I speak for all Italophiles when I say that the first place I head after arriving in a new destination is the cathedral square. It’s the hub of most Italian cities, offering a chance to get one’s bearings and start to understand the city’s unique rhythm. Lecce’s Palazzo Duomo doesn’t disappoint. It’s a Baroque bamboozle of sites, presided over by a dizzyingly-high bell tower built in the 1600s.
The Story Continues
At Prestige Holidays, we believe it’s important to factor plenty of free time into an escorted tour, allowing guests to discover the sites at their own pace. As a suggestion, why not pay a visit to Saint Oronzo, the city’s patron saint? Originally a statue marking the end of the Appian Way – the crucial Roman road that snaked through Italy, connecting the great cities of the empire – it was given to Lecce in the seventeenth century and still stands sentry over this limestone gem.
Alternatively, step into the shoes of a Holy Roman Emperor and wander through the vast halls of the Castello di Carlo V, a staunch, characterful mass of crenellations and thick-walled yards.
I don’t know why Puglia remains so unknown to mass tourism, but I’m glad it does! Why not discover this mysterious, mythical corner of Italy for yourself? Read up on the details of our escorted Puglia tour here – it’s fully booked for 2018 but more tours will be operating in 2019, so do not hesitate to get in touch with any requests.