“Utai, utai, utai, megghiu te la casa mia nu truai ”. The people of Lecce think so, but also the many admirers of this baroque corner of Puglia which, in the capital of Salento, they come back precisely because they feel at home and repeat: “As far as they have been around, we haven’t found better yet”. Lecce has a heart of gold: it is that of its white and porous stone that the sun illuminates making it warm, almost yellow. And every Lecce guide will tell you that you need to start from here. From the stone and the love of the people.
Lecce guide: we start from Santa Croce
AND’ the limestone of Salento is fragilebut it is so beautiful that the cathedral or the basilica of Santa Croce “would not have turned out so well”, the inhabitants always point out when, having arrived in via Umberto I one remains as if suspended, nose up to admire the complex, very fine decorations of the facade of the church shaped by Gabriele Riccardi, begun in 1548 and completed more than 150 years later. One detail: actually the church it was begun in 1353 but it was not completed until the facade was finished. A wealth that is found in the engravings on the portal, on the rose window and on the entire front of the church. Lions, eagles, griffins and human figures they hold frames and sprout amidst a profusion of fruit, leaves and imaginative creatures. And the Lecce guide here must spend words to tell so much wealth.
Baroque air. And taste of beauty
He also breathes inside air of baroque with the columns separating the aisles surmounted by sumptuously decorated capitals and the side chapels full of ornamental stones. It would already be a lot if there were not also a large and very ornate façade nearby Celestine convent. It once belonged to the church, but is now the governament Palace and the prefecture. But the stone remains the same.
The same charm that is found, around the corner of via Vittorio Emanuele, when you get lost in the wide embrace of Piazza Duomo. He has the same solemnity of certain open spaces that you meet among the Roman palaces, if it were not for that perfume and that breeze that only the true South can give. And that makes a difference. The large Piazza del Duomo is enclosed by a series of notable buildings, the main one being the cathedral itself, with its tall tapered bell tower. The darker of the cathedral’s two entrances faces the Episcopal Palacewhich has a loggia and ornate carvings around the windows.
Opposite the square is also located the seminar, built in 1701, with a decorated facade and a courtyard with a fountain. Not far from Corso Vittorio Emanuele II is the church of Theatines of Sant’Irenebegun in 1591 and containing one of the largest altars in the city in its right transept.
A guide to Lecce: between sweets and music
Lecce has the color of its stone. But a thousand flavors: is that of Typical Italian cake with custard cream fillingfull-bodied and sincere, with which it is a must to start the day. Shortcrust pastry brushed with egg whitelard of order, cream but also fruit jam: a greedy and deadly morsel that many believe was born in the neighboring area Galatinain support of who knows, even the challenging ones taranta nights, to then become a must in all of Salento. “Don’t mix it with seafood”, Francesca suggests, clarifying the caloric and metabolic commitment, stretching it, still warm, in the napkin from a pastry shop in piazza sant’Oronzo.
Yet, except on the table, the secret of Lecce is precisely in the mix with which today it knows how to distill different cultures. Just turn around and start right from Piazza Sant’Oronzo that he tells of a Roman heart it is far. A little further there is the theater of the Augustan period discovered by chance in the late twenties and then there are the ruins of a tuff amphitheater which, perhaps of Hadrian’s age, could accommodate up to 20 thousand people.
They sprout in Sant’Oronzo, but only halfway, to embellish the living room en plein air, civil heart of the center. It is nice to think that the other half of the story still lies underground to make room for many other chapters, such as that of the column of the squareerected as an ex voto after the plague of the seventeenth century, using the stones with which it ended the Appian Way on the sea. In the Middle Ages Lecce it rivaled in importance and beauty with Constantinople and also with Venice.
The castle of Charles V
In 1539 Charles V had a castle built there which still today is a fifth of elegance a few steps from the center. It has a trapezoidal plan and it was obviously used as a fortress for military activities, but a part of it was transformed into a theater. Today, he continues in a cultural role with his own beautiful interior spaces with sculpted capitals and stained glass windows used as an exhibition space.
On the ground floor is the charming Papier-mâché museum exploring a profession that Lecce is famous for. The art, developed in Puglia in the 17th century, it was particularly appreciated for decorating churches; you will see papier mache statues and ceiling decorations and may also see shops and shops in Lecce where this craftsmanship is still practiced.
The Spanish and the Baroque
However, it is later that Lecce becomes Baroque native speaker: they brought her the Spanish and the lesson of the Counter-Reformation and thanks to this soft and malleable stone, here the decorations, more than anywhere else, are a surge of virtuosity, between cherubs, pinnacles, stuccoes and bizarre furnishings. To understand just follow via Libertini up to church of the Rosarywith its opulent pulpit, or browse the expression of the curious caryatids of Falconieri square, that decorate the prospectus of Marrese palace.
The guide of Lecce. And the countries where Greek is spoken
Yet not far away there is also a heart that beats in Greek: fra Calimera – which means good morning in neo Greek – Castrignano de ‘Greci And Corigliano d’Otranto and the griko that resonates from shops and boutiques of ben nine Hellenic municipalities. It is not quite the language of Plato or the one that is spoken in the heart of Athensbut very much like us because in Salento everything is mixed and everything tries to remain as it was, to witness the union in the difference and a perfect synthesis between cultures.
Between a rusticwith her puff pastry filled with mozzarella, bechamel, tomato, pepper and nutmegand one puccia, the typical durum wheat bread seasoned or stuffed with olives (with stone!) could also make you want to go for a swim “in the sea”. To dispose of the flavors of Puglia. And even in this case, Lecce is the virtue that lies in the middle. Otranto and the Adriatic or it Ionian with Gallipoli they are both half an hour by car. Leuca with his finis terrae and the embrace between the two seas that make up the Mediterranean, just beyond. They call them the Caribbean of Salento. But, fortunately, there is really nothing better than the sea at home.