Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Lecce was a pleasant surprise, from the cozy Prestige B&B where I stayed to the over-the-top baroque architecture that has deemed the city worthy of being called, “the Firenze of the South.” After the five hour and thirty minute train ride from Rome to Lecce, I found myself walking along mostly empty streets, enjoying the warm weather and even getting lost as I made my way from the train station to the centro storico, or historical center.
in the centro storico di Lecce
 Lecce is especially famous for its barocco Leccese (baroque) architecture, as the unusual Leccese pietra (a type of limestone) was especially easy to carve, and craftsmen took advantage of the opportunity to carve their little hearts out all over town. I read somewhere that milk was used as a type of varnish that helped to harden the stone after it was carved, preserving it for posterity so it can still be enjoyed by all. Baroque is not my favorite style, but I was actually impressed by the opulent creativity and symbolism that was evident . I only visited a few of the forty churches in Lecce, but the most impressive were the Basilica di Santa Croce, and the Duomo, set back in its own large piazza that might easily be missed, since it is away from the main street.
Church of San Giovanni Battista

some details of the carvings on the Basilica Santa Croce
 The Piazza Sant’Oronzo serves as the main gathering place in Lecce, and it literally sits over the partial ruins of a 2nd century Roman amphitheater, uncovered when workers were building a nearby bank in the early 1900’s. Elsewhere in the city, there is another Roman theater, uncovered in the 1930s.

Piazza Sant'Oranzo
Roman amphitheater
One highlight of the city that many tourists might overlook is the formal Giardini Pubblici (Public Gardens) that are not far from Lecce’s famous Castello di Carlo V (castle). I spent several hours in the garden, enjoying the well-kept landscape of palm and deciduous trees, fountains, and several playgrounds. Like most parks in Italy, it was well-used by the locals. 

Giardini Pubblici
At the castle, an exhibit of Cartapesta, or sculpture done with papier-mache, was a focal point of interest. In fact, the highly skilled artform of cartapesta was featured in Lecce, and I visited several botteghe (workshops) along the main thoroughfare through the centro storico.  Scenes of various types were depicted in cartapesta, which might include intricately crafted figures of fruit vendors, along with tiny baskets and fruits.
Cartapesta: everything was made of  papier-mache
Zuppa di legumi e farro
I made an effort to try several Pugliese specialties while I was in Lecce, which included:
Zuppa di legumi e farro (beans and spelt soup) Excellent!
Pasticiotto (custard cake) Yummy!
Le fave con chicorie di campagna (Mashed fava beans with wild chicory) Great!
Orrechiette con sugo (small ear-shaped pasta with tomato sauce).  So-so: a bit heavy on the whole wheat pasta for my taste.
Puglia is known for its cucina povera (peasant cuisine), which grew out of necessity since meat was seldom a staple in the diet of the terroni, (people of the earth), as the Pugliesi are often called. 

I also made a visit to nearby San Cataldo to spend some time by the Adriatic Sea, which I wrote about in a previous post. I really enjoyed my stay in Lecce and was pleased with my accommodations at the B&B Prestige, run by lovely Renata. 

1 comment:

Allison said...

Thanks for posting - I love your blog! Great photos too, the zuppa made me yearn for some Italian food.