Lecce: “Florence of the South”

August 6, 2014 / Places
Lecce, Puglia

Today, Lecce is a candidate for Capital of European Culture in 2019. However, her ancient history and origins date back over 3,000 years to before the Trojan Wars and perhaps even further! Over the centuries (as with many cities and regions located in strategically desirable areas), Lecce’s story is one of conquest and survival.

First let’s fast forward past the Messapii, Greeks, and Ostrogoths to the 6th century AD when Lecce became part of the Eastern Roman Empire and remained under Constantinople’s rule for five centuries.  A partially excavated Roman amphitheater and other ruins from this period sit prominently in Lecce’s lovely historical center along with St. Oronzo (St. Horace), her patron saint, who saved the city from the plague in the 17th century.

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Now, moving to the end of the 11th century with the Normans, Lecce became an important trading center and capital of the province of Salento. And, as part of the Kingdom of Naples, Lecce not only became one of the most important towns in southern Italy, but this period also marks the flourishing of Lecce’s culture and unique architectural style.

Known as Lecce Baroque, Leccese in Italian, local master sculptors used tuffaceous stone or pietra leccese (poor man’s marble) to create elaborate and fanciful stone ornamentation and “lacework” for her buildings, churches, and fortifications. Soft and easy to work with (but hardening over time) this extravagant celebration of Lecce Baroque embellishes the entire city and continues to delight visitors.

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Delightful truly describes Lecce, nicknamed the “Florence of the South”. With its elaborate edifices, facades, and interiors… everywhere you look you are greeted with ripe and lush decor, cheerful cherubs and saints. There is a sense of jubilation. Instead of serious inanimate images, they feel animated, full of life! Dancing and rejoicing, they invite us to join them… shall we?

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Victoria De Maio

by Victoria De Maio

Victoria is a lover of all things Italian! A travel advisor, blogger, writer, tour leader, and published author, she is passionate about traveling to and writing about Italy.

Her book, Victoria’s Travel Tipz Italian Style, is available on Amazon.

Join Victoria for her fabulous unique, boutique tours of Puglia,, and the Italian Riviera.

Visit PostcardZ from Victoria where she shares expert travel tips, insights and more about Bella Italia.

18 Responses to “Lecce: “Florence of the South””

  1. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    thank you ,Vittoria for showcasing the beauty of sud italia, also within that beauty are the people and the foods they prepare…THANK YOU

    Reply
  2. Angela De Marco Manzi

    Thank you so much for this post. My grandmother, Rosa Pinto, was born here in 1904 and came to America (NY) at the age of 6. I am thrilled to see such beautiful pictures of this city and hope to visit myself next year.

    Reply
  3. Gian Banchero

    Thank you Vittoria for the beautiful photos and a return to Italy. Before settling down to becoming a restauranteur, caterer, and culinary writer I spent years of my “mal speso” (ill-spent) rebellious youth traveling to and living in dozens of Italian towns, big and small, many never mentioned in the guide books… Your article proves that one cannot take a one week tour of Italy and even scratch at what the country has to offer, maybe in one or two lifetimes.

    Reply
  4. Bill Salatino

    Thank you for the information about Lecce. My Grandfather was born and raised there and always told me how great it is.

    Reply
  5. Buongiorno Giuseppe, Angela, Gian, Lee & Bill!
    Grazie mille for commenting – I’m thrilled to have touched something special for each of you – I have to admit I wasn’t prepared to love Lecce and Puglia so much on my first visit in April. Just looking at the photos, I can’t wait to return and introduce Puglia to more travelers in September!
    I write a lot about it on my blog and there are lots of photos of the fabulous food and people, too!
    Gratefully,
    Victoria

    Reply
  6. Do you have time to plan a trip for me and my husband to Sicily in the Fall of 2015? I have roots in both Lombardia which we have already visited in 2006 and now we want to visit my Sicillian side.
    We could take 3 weeks for the trip.
    Do you take groups and plan stops and hotel and
    eating arrangements?
    THANK YOU
    SUSAN AND BUD

    Reply
    • Susan & Bud,
      Please send me an email: postcardsfromtravelpizazz@gmail.com and we can “discuss’ ideas!
      Anne,
      Umbria is next fall! :D

      Alex,
      LOVED Greece…and by going further south, do you mean Sicilia? Oh, si! Mi piace molto – land of (1/2) of my ancestry!

      Francis,
      When I return next month I will look for the paintings of Oronzo Tiso! Grazie for the tip!

      Jan,
      Yes, maybe I’ll see you there! :D

      Grazie a tutti!
      Love your comments!
      Victoria

      Reply
  7. Alex Cicchinelli

    Possibly, Florence is really the Lecce of the north, and many years younger. Lecce is greater Greece at its best. Keep going, Vittoria.

    Reply
  8. and don’t forget the paintings of Oronzo Tiso, in the cathedral and practically everywhere else. Was there for an amazing 5 days last September, a city full of art shows and excitement. Thanks!

    Reply
  9. Jan Johnson

    Lovely reminder of a fascinating place. The vibe is great and the people are proud of their heritage. I have only visited a couple of times (not long enough) so thanks Victoria for reminding me to add it to this year’s itinerary.

    Reply
  10. Cheryl Kroyer

    Rich and interesting history! My bucket list is overflowing!

    Reply
  11. David Barneby

    My experiences of Puglia are very mixed . I was cheated of L100,000 at an AGIP gas station at Masafra . We stayed at my lady friend’s former farmhouse , where we were wonderfully looked after and fed by a neighbour who farmed the land adjoining . We went to a restaurant the first evening , where the food was good , but the staff very lazy to serve us . When we went to the local bakery to buy bread , the woman didn’t seem interested in selling any . Pugliese don’t seem interested in tourism , despite its great potential in an impoverished region . There are miles of potentially beautiful beaches , if the local could bother to pick up the litter that covers them .
    We did go to Lecce which is architectually a beautiful city . We parked a little out from the centre and walked . I was very struck by a house on three floors that we passed , there was a shop on the ground floor open for business , the first floor was an unoccupied apartment , the second floor was a ruin with no roof at all .
    Our good farmers wife took us to her original home which was a very big farm . The Olive trees were huge like forest trees . They raised a variety of different animals , Lamas for example , We spent an hour or so making Ricotta . That was the highlight of my visit , though we spent happy days at near deserted beaches , swiming in warm sea .
    On our return , I stopped at Masafra police station and made a statement . They fetched the culprit and a heated argument followed . About a year later I had to go to Taranto to testify at the court case . Through equestrian friends I was put in touch with a very good lawyer , also keen horseman . He represented me very well , I had to take the stand and tell the judge what happened . I was greatly complemented on my fluent Italian . My lawyer and his family entertained me royaly , to dinner , a tour of the very ancient city , a visit to his castle that he uses for public funtions and weddings , also to see his horses .
    After my first visit to Puglia , I swore I’d never go again , but the second visit was a compensation for the first .

    Reply
  12. We opened in the historic centre of Lecce 11 years ago. The city has come a long way since then, from a vibrant capital of the Salento to a world-class city. Check out our site to see a lot more photographs of the city and region. Nice article!

    Reply
  13. David, It’s unfortunate that your experience was, well…unfortunate but that can happen anywhere, can’t it? And it is totally contrary to all that I experienced, not only in Lecce, but in Gallipoli, Otranto, Ostuni, Polignano a Mare…and in all of Italy, for that matter. Yes, there will be incidences but I hesitate to label an entire population based on a few experiences. I hope you will give Puglia another chance some day…
    Salvatore, I am honored that you like the article – I truly love Lecce and cannot wait to return.
    Cheryl, Soon Lecce will no longer be on your bucket list! :D

    Reply

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