The origins of this city, capital of its province, are very ancient and often mixed with legend: Sybar the MessApico town on which Lecce was built seems to be older than the Trojan war. After the advent of the Japigi and with the 3rd century BC Roman conquest, Lecce obtained the status of municipium, took the name of Lupiae and witnessed a period of splendour under the guidance of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. After a short Greek domination, it was sacked by the Ostrogoths and was annexed in 549 to the Eastern Roman Empire where it remained for 5 centuries.
It was under the Norman domination that Lecce became an important trading centre and assumed the role of capital of the Salento. In 1493 Lecce became part of the Kingdom of Naples and became the liveliest cultural centre of the Mediterranean giving life to its own architectural style, which later became known as Lecce Baroque.
In later centuries, to protect against possible Turkish invasions, under the reign of Charles V, walls and a castle were built around the city. Next churches and aristocratic dwelling were constructed turning the city into an open air construction site. In 1656 Lecce was hit with a plague epidemic which ended thanks to the miraculous intercession of St. Horace, who later became the patron saint of the city. The expansion of the city beyond its walls took place in the first years of the 1900’s.
Lecce is marked by its own Baroque style called Leccese in Italian, which can be found in all the monumental buildings of the city. The style is characterized by a particular richness and exuberance in its decorations which seem to want to hide the buildings rather than decorate them. The practical flair and conceptual creativity of Lecce’s master sculptors found an easy application thanks to the use of a particular material, pietra leccese, or poor man’s marble, a tuffaceous stone, particularly soft and easy to work but which hardens over time. According to tradition to protect the worked stones for atmospheric agents they were soaked in cow milk before being applied to buildings.
Lecce has an enormous architectural and artistic heritage, so much so that the city was also called the “Florence of the South” or “Pearl of the Salento”, visiting it means being surrounded by an open air museum, where pietra leccese is the common denominator of buildings, churches and fortifications. Of the city’s many churches, all very beautiful and of great artistic interest, the Basilica of Santa Croce is worth seeing. Its construction began in 1353 but was almost immediately stopped due to the death of its financer. It took more than two centuries resume the work which was finally completed in 1699. The Duomo stands in the older part of the city which together with the Bishop’s residence, Seminary and Bell Tower sit on the centrally located charming Piazza Duomo.
By the editorial staff
Project created in collaboration with InnovaPuglia.