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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.