Monday, 17 December 2012



Lecce is a historic city in southern Italy, the capital of the province of Lecce, the second province in the region by population, as well as one of the most important cities of Puglia. It is the main city of the Salentine Peninsula, a sub-peninsula at the heel of the Italian Peninsula and is over 2,000 years old.

Because of the rich Baroque architectural monuments found in the city, Lecce is commonly nicknamed "The Florence of the South". The city also has a long traditional affinity with Greek culture going back to its foundation; the Messapii who founded the city are said to have been Cretans in Greek records. To this day, in the Grecìa Salentina, a group of towns not far from Lecce, the griko language is still spoken.

According to legend, a city called Sybar existed at the time of the Trojan War, founded by the Messapii Italic tribe. Later it was occupied by the Iapyges and conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BCE, receiving the new name of Lupiae.

Under the emperor Hadrian (2nd century AD) the city was moved 3 km to NE, taking the name of Licea or Litium. Lecce had a theater and an amphitheater and was connected to the Hadrian Port (the current San Cataldo). Orontius of Lecce, locally called Sant'Oronzo, is considered to have served as the city's first Christian bishop and is Lecce's patron saint.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Lecce was sacked by the Ostrogoth king Totila in the Gothic Wars. It was conquered by the Byzantines in 549, and remained part of the Eastern Empire for five centuries, with brief conquests by Saracens, Lombards, Hungarians and Slavs.

After the Norman conquest in the 11th century, Lecce regained commercial importance, flourishing in the subsequent Hohenstaufen and Angevine rule. The County of Lecce was one of the largest and most importants fiefs in the Kingdom of Sicily from 1053 to 1463, when it was annexed directly to the crown. From the 15th century, Lecce was one of the most important cities of southern Italy, and, starting in 1630, it was enriched with precious Baroque monuments. To avert invasion by the Ottomans, a new line of walls and a castle were built by Charles V, (who was also Holy Roman Emperor), in the first part of the 16th century.

Porta Napoli
In 1656, a plague broke out in the city, killing a thousand inhabitants.

In 1943, fighter aircrafts based in Lecce helped support isolated Italian garrisons in the Aegean Sea, fighting Germans during World War 2. Because they were delayed by the Allies, they couldn't prevent a defeat. In 1944 and 1945, B-24 long-range bombers of the 98th Heavy Bomb Group attached to the 15th U.S. Army Air Force were based in Lecce, from where the crews flew missions over Italy, the Balkans, Austria, Germany and France.

Lecce boasts a unique gastronomic and culinary treasure trove which is mostly thanks to the areas natural products and the traditions of peasant cookery. The basic ingredient for almost all of Salento dishes is olive oil. Gabriele d'Annunzio himself sung the praises of the oil, writing that it travelled from the ancient oil-presses as far as England. Indeed, olive oil is the element of Pugliese cookery which makes Salento one of the most renowned eating areas in Italy.

Wine is also an important element in traditional cookery and it is known as "lu mieru" in Lecce dialect. Homer wrote of a "sea of wine": in September the sea becomes dark because of the sea storms and during the grape harvest the sea around Puglia turns the colour of wine. Lecces wines are a good accompaniment for a meal or a dessert and can be used for blends. Each wine carries with it the flavours, scents and colours of the earth and air of its vineyard.

There are plenty of traditional recipes which have been handed down from generation to generation. These include dishes like "ciceri e tria" which is a kind of homemade lasagna with chick peas, or tasty horsemeat spiced up with some chili peppers.
The other essential element of the Salento diet is bread. Great care is taken in the preparation of oiled breads and Pizzi, both typical breads from Lecce.

Finally, there are the famous Pugliese desserts and pastries like strufuli, cartellate and cupete with toasted almonds. A visit to Lecce is not complete without trying a "pasticciotto" filled with cream or a "fruttone" with stuffed with marzipan and covered with chocolate.
Most of the restaurants and pizzerias in Lecce are in the towns old centre. If you walk down Via Palmieri towards Piazza Duomo you will come across a whole series of pizzerias and restaurants including the Piction, an elegant and refined restaurant which serves excellent spaghetti with scampi.

 There is Maccheroni which serves excellent maceroni with sauce. If you are looking for a more characteristic and unusual place then try Alle due Corti dei Giugni which serves excellent horse meat. If you continue down the main thoroughfare, you will see the Dominga, where you can enjoy some superb first courses including "spaghetti alle cozze". You can try the areas famous "pizzi" and oiled breads at La Rusticana. 

Lecce offers a range of activities all year round. There are numerous cinemas, pub, discos, festivals, theatres, and many other places and shows to spend an evening having fun, in the company of lovely, southerners. In every corner of the city, are fun, spirited and cordial people, who make up a population that have always faced life with a lively, daring spirit throughout all the adversities and problems they have come across over the centuries. Many festivals take place in Lecce, during the summer, from June to September. Food and typical, local produce are on offer here, as well as good music. Don't miss out on the special "lampascioni", which are little, wild, onions. There are also many festivals that take place in the surrounding area, such as a beer festival and wine feasts. All these festivals are great fun and very lively.

                                                        Lecce’s Top 5:
  1. Lecce Cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Lecce. The cathedral was first built in 1144, with repairs in 1230. It was rebuilt in 1659 by the architect Giuseppe Zimbalo by order of bishop Luigi Pappacoda, whose remains are kept in the altar dedicated to Saint Orontius of Lecce (Sant'Oronzo), the patron saint of the city. The cathedral has two entrances. The principal one is on the north side of the church, the other on the square onto which it faces. The principal façade is sober and elegant, while the second portal is a masterpiece of Baroque art with statues representing Saint Orontius between Saint Justus and Saint Fortunatus. The church is built on a Latin cross plan with a nave and two aisles, separated by pillars and pilasters. The central nave and the transept are covered by a wooden ceiling in which are paintings representing the Martyrdom of Saint Orontius and the Last Supper. There are twelve altars. In the cathedral square are other monuments: the bell tower, the bishop's palace and the seminary.
  2. The Castle of Charles V  was built in Lecce by Charles V in 1539. The building was designed by the architect Gian Giacomo dell’Acaya and to build this fortress two constructions were pulled down: the Chapel of the Trinity and the Monastery of the Benedictine Order of the Saint Cross. The castle did not have only defensive functions, in the 18th century one of its rooms was used as a theatre. From 1870 to 1979 it was used as military district. Nowadays it is the seat of the Cultural Affairs of the township of Lecce, a backdrop for many cultural initiatives. Visitors can remain charmed with the delicate ornaments of the interiors: the capitals and the decorated big room, with imposing big stained glass windows. The rooms of the upstairs are sustained by imposing stone columns. 
  3. Porta Napoli - Also know as Arch of Triumph, it was erected in 1548 to pay homage to Charles V and thank him for having fortified the town. Twenty metres tall, the arch is situated in a square named after it, where S.Giusto once was.
  4. Torre del Parco ("Park Tower") is one of the medieval symbols of Lecce. It was erected in 1419 by the then-18 years old Giovanni Antonio del Balzo Orsini, prince of Lecce. The tower, standing at more than 23 meters, is surrounded by a ditch in which bears (the heraldic symbol of the Orsini del Balzo) were reared. The whole complex was the seat of Orsini's tribunal and of a mint, and after Giovanni Antonio's death, it became a residence for the Spanish viceroys.
  5. The Roman Amphitheater was built in the second century AD and once held 25,000 spectators. The amphitheater is partially excavated but monuments have been built above most of it. You'll see the remains near Sant'Oronzo Square where there's a Roman column topped by a copper statue of Saint Oronzo, the city's patron saint.


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