tourist attractions in Lecce

10 top tourist attractions in Lecce

If the provincial capital of Lecce wasn’t so far from Italy’s boot, its abundance of Baroque architecture would make it one of Italy’s most visited cities. Architects had a great advantage here because the local golden yellow limestone – at least in stone terms – was buttery soft and easy to cut into amazingly intricate and detailed embellishments for its churches and palaces. Everywhere you walk through the city you can look up to see delicate figures – angels, human faces, animals, plants and fanciful curls – supporting balconies, surrounding doors and windows, and decorating the capitals of columns. More than 2000 years old, Lecce was founded by the Messapii people from the eastern Adriatic.

1 Basilica of Santa Croce

Basilica of Santa Croce
 

The beautiful baroque church of Santa Croce has an elaborately decorated façade, begun in 1548 and completed over 150 years later. The church itself was begun in 1353 but not completed until the same time as the façade. The detailed stone carvings on the portal, the rose window and the entire front of the church are almost overwhelming. Lions, eagles, griffins and human figures support cornices and rise from capitals amidst an abundance of fruits, leaves and fanciful creatures. The interior is also baroque, the columns separating nave from aisles with heavily decorated capitals and side chapels full of ornamental masonry. Adjacent to Santa Croce to the north is the elaborate and also highly decorated facade of the Cloister of Celestine, which once belonged to the church but is now the Palazzo del Governo.

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Adres: Prefecture Square, Lecce

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Lecce

2 Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin

Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin
Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin
 

Originally built in 1144, Lecce Cathedral was rebuilt in 1230 and completely rebuilt in Baroque style in 1659-70, when the 70-meter bell tower was added. Of the cathedral’s two entrances, the main one on the north side of the church is understated and elegant, while the portal facing the piazza is a riot of intricate baroque stone carving surpassed only by the Santa Croce façade. The interior is equally ornate, with painted wooden ceilings in the nave and transepts. Of the church’s 12 chapels, the most notable is Cappella Sant’Oronzo , with four statues surrounding an altarpiece depicting the town’s patron saint.

Address: Piazza del Duomo, Lecce

3 Cathedral Square

Cathedral square
Cathedral square
 

The wide Piazza del Duomo is surrounded by a series of remarkable buildings, the most important of which is the cathedral itself, with its tall, pointed bell tower. The more sombre of the cathedral’s two entrances faces the Palazzo Vescovile , Bishop’s Palace, which has a loggia and ornate carvings around the windows. Also opposite the square is the Seminary, built in 1701, with a decorated façade and a courtyard with a fountain. A short way up Corso Vittorio Emanuele II is the Theatine Church of Sant’Irene, begun in 1591 and featuring one of the city’s largest altars in its right transept.

4 Saints Nicholas and Cataldo

Northwest of the Porta di Napoli , a triumphal arch erected in 1548, is the Church of Santi Nicolò e Cataldo, founded by the Norman Count Tancred of Sicily in 1180. At the center of the Baroque façade, which was added in 1716, is the beautiful Romanesque doorway of the original church. Multiple statues from the 18th-century renovations surround the older doorway, but the interior retains much of the early French Gothic style, with beautiful carved capitals and ogival arches. The frescoes date from the 15th to the 17th century.

Address: Campo Santo, Lecce

5 Piazza Sant’Oronzo

Piazza Sant'Oronzo
Piazza Sant’Oronzo
 

In the center of Lecce, the central square of Piazza Sant’Oronzo marks the end of the Via Appia, the Roman road to southern Italy. Close to a tall seventeenth-century column topped by a statue of the city’s patron saint is the Palazzo del Sedile , a loggia built in 1592. Adjacent to the loggia is the doorway of the little church of San Marco , founded in 1543 and once used by the small Venetian community in Lecce. On the south side of the square are the excavated remains of a second-century Roman amphitheatre .

6 Roman amphitheatre

Roman amphitheatre
Roman amphitheatre
 

The Roman amphitheatre, long buried beneath Piazza Sant’Oronzo, was discovered in 1929 and has since been partially excavated. More of it remains buried under adjacent buildings, but the seating and part of the floor that have been exposed are now open and used for performances and concerts. The theater was built in the second century AD and held more than 25,000 spectators. Discovered during the excavations are marble statues that once decorated the podium, columns, arches and marble mosaic floors. Larger pieces are on site and smaller finds are displayed in the Museo Storico della Città di Lecce in the former convent of Santa Chiara on Via degli Ammirati, not far from Piazza del Duomo.

Address: Piazza Sant’Oronzo, Lecce

7 Castle

Castle
Castle
 

Southeast of Piazza Sant’Oronzo is the Castello, built by Charles V in 1539-48, on a trapezoid plan. It was used as a fortress for military activities, but part of it was also used as a theater. Today it continues in a cultural role with its beautiful interior spaces with carved capitals and stained glass windows used as an exhibition space. On the ground floor is the fascinating Museum Papier-maché(Museo della Cartapesta) which explores a vessel for which Lecce is known. Developed in Puglia in the 17th century, the art was especially popular for decorating churches; you can see many papier-mache statues and ceiling decorations today, and you can also see shops and studios in Lecce where the craft is still practiced.

Address: Viale 25 July, Lecce

8 St. Matthew

St. Matthew
St. Matthew
 

The Church of San Matteo was built in 1667, following the Baroque style popular in Italy at the time, but its exterior was different from others, with a deeply curved facade flanked by two columns. One remains unfinished, creating a local legend about the devil intervening before the sculptor could complete it. The interior has a single elliptical nave surrounded by chapels separated by statues of the 12 apostles. The fifth chapel on the left has a remarkable 17th century Venetian statue of the Pieta in polychrome wood and the third, a papier-mache statue. The vaulted ceiling is painted and the main altar is impressively decorated.

Address: Via dei Perroni, Lecce

9 Otranto

Otranto
Otranto
 

On the coast just south of Lecce, the fishing village of Otranto lies on a beautiful bay. A port called Hydrus in ancient times, Otranto was destroyed by the Turks in 1480. The present castello was built in 1495-98 after the attack. From here you have a beautiful view over the Strait of Otranto to the mountains of Albania. The Cathedral of Santissima Annunziata , begun in 1080, contains ancient columns with 12th-century capitals, a five-aisled crypt, and a unique 12th-century mosaic floor. Very well preserved, it shows the months of the year and heroic subjects. In a side street in the upper part of town is the small church of San Pietro, from the 10th and 11th centuries with a Byzantine dome and frescoes depicting the saints and scenes from the life of Christ.

10 Gallipoli

Gallipoli
Gallipoli
 

The small port of Gallipoli enjoys a picturesque location on a rocky island in the Golfo di Taranto and is connected by a bridge to its modern suburb on the mainland. On the east side of the bridge is a fountain thought to be of Greek origin, which was built here in 1560. The old fishing port is near the fountain. Beyond the bridge is the castello , built in the 14th century and rebuilt in the 16th century. It still retains its four corner towers and its halls are used for exhibitions and cultural events. The old town is a warren of narrow, winding streets and alleyways dating back to Moorish rule in the 900s, and in the center of it you’ll find the Cathedral of St Agata. Begun in 1629, it is in the Baroque architectural style and has beautiful choir stalls and a polychrome marble high altar. The Municipal Museum has curiously sorted collections that include everything from marine life to musical instruments, along with a rare sarcophagus from the Messapic era, around the 8th century BC.

Read also:

Lecce in Italy: sights and tips for the baroque city

Salento: sights and tips for Puglia’s spectacular peninsula

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