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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Spotlight on Lecce

PART 45: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.

Step 1: As we explore towns in Puglia, we discover some gems worth sharing. Some of these are well-known tourist magnets; others are lesser known but always amazing. This week let's explore Lecce.

Step 2: History. Stories and legends date Lecce to the fall of Troy, but the archeological evidence reveals that the Messapian tribe first inhabited the area and then was dominated by the Romans. The town center's arena and the Roman theater testify to the thriving Roman community in Lecce.

The layers of history continue, as Lecce was under Byzantine domination until the Normans took over the area in about 1000 AD, followed by other dynasties connected to France and Venice.

The turning point was in the 15th and 16th centuries when Charles V of Hapsburg gained control of the area.

A turning point: Saint Orontius of Lecce was attributed to saving the Lecce citizens from the plague, which decimated the kingdom of Naples in 1566. He thus became Lecce's patron saint.

Why all this history? Because Lecce's architecture, buildings, and layout express these events.

Step 3: Architecture. "Florence of the South." Lecce flourished and developed its Puglian baroque architectural style between the 16th and 17th centuries. The city has many examples of the characteristic Lecce stone, which, being a light stone with a yellow hue, gives the town its evening glow. Some principal examples of this architectural style include the cathedral, the Basilica of the Holy Cross, and the church of St. Nicholas and Cataldo.

Because of the number of historical treasures, including baroque churches, palaces, Roman theaters, and the 16th-century castle, Lecce is often called the "Florence of the South."

Step 4: Sights. A list of things to see and do in Lecce is subjective (Feel free to share your favorites!) What I am drawn to may not appeal to someone else; the things I will share here are sights in Lecce that interest us.

  • Piazza Sant'Oronzo

This piazza feels like the city's heart, with street performers, cafes, a Roman amphitheater, and people-watching. With gelato in hand, we often head directly here and find a place near the arena to sit, chat, people-watch, and enjoy the moment.

  • Cathedral Plaza

When we enter Piazza del Duomo in Lecce, I always feel embraced. It is one of the largest enclosed piazzas in Italy and is often teeming with activity. I especially enjoy the piano player who somehow gets his piano to the piazza to entertain the crowds.

The beautiful illuminated baroque architecture always makes my jaw drop. The cathedral itself is nicer on the outside than the interior. It feels dark and heavy when I step inside, but it is worth at least one visit.

  • Baroque churches.

Visiting the baroque churches (Santa Croce and others) in the historical center is always enjoyable; they are sacred spaces and historical monuments that speak to everyone. They now charge admission to raise money, but it is worth it, and the 16th-century churches need the funds to keep up the buildings. Even though Baroque isn't my favorite church architecture, there is something cleaner and lighter about this style in Lecce.

  • Streets and alleys

Getting lost in the historical center in Lecce is the way to come across interesting shops, cafes, churches, and monuments. We sometimes wander in and out of streets and alleys, looking into windows, ducking into courtyards, and gazing at beautiful buildings.

Step 5: Cool places. Everyone has their "cool" places that they prefer, and I can think of two of them that we like in Lecce.

  • Gelato “Settimo Cielo”

"Settimo Cielo" is a gelato place on the edge of the historical center in Lecce, which has fantastic gelato. It is always fresh, packed with fruit or other flavors, and we return more than we should. Say hello to Angelo if you drop by.

  • Porto San Biagio

Three (out of four) remaining gates lead into the historical center of Lecce. One of our favorites is Porto San Biagio because it is perfect when one can sit outside with an Aperol spritz and enjoy the moment when the weather is nice. We sometimes drive the 20 minutes to Lecce to sit at our favorite cafe at Porto S. Biagio and drink in the atmosphere and the Aperol.

Insights: Getting close and personal with a city is the way for a place to become meaningful. Lecce lends itself to this type of relationship. Lecce has everything, whether one is into architecture, history, food, entertainment, or just people-watching.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

More next time.

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