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. 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.
Churches and religious buildings
- The most important is the Church of the Holy Cross (Chiesa di Santa Croce). It was begun in 1353, but work was halted until 1549, to be completed only in 1695. The church has a richly decorated façade with animals, grotesque figures and vegetables, and a large rose window. Next to the church is the Government Palace, a former convent.
- The Duomo (cathedral) is also one of the most significant in Italy. It was originally built in 1144, and rebuilt in 1230.
- The church of San Niccolò and Cataldo is an example of Italo-Norman architecture.
- The Celestines’ Convent (1549–1695), with Baroque decorations by Giuseppe Zimbalo. The courtyard was designed by Gabriele Riccardi.
- The church of the Theatines (St. Irene, built from 1591 by Francesco Grimaldi). It has a large façade showing different styles in the upper and lower parts.
- Church of San Matteo, built in 1667. It has a typical central Italy Baroque style. It has two columns on the façade, only one of which is decorated, though only partially. According to a local legend, the jealous devil killed the sculptor before he could finish the work.
- Church Of Santa Maria degli Angeli
- Church of Santa Chiara (1429–1438), rebuilt in 1687
- Church of San Francesco della Scarpa, known as the “church without façade” as the latter has been demolished in the 19th century restorations.
- The Roman Amphitheatre, built in the 2nd century and situated near Sant’Oronzo Square, was able to seat more than 25,000 people. It is now half-buried because other monuments were built above it over the centuries.
- The column holding the statue of Saint Oronzo (Lecce’s patron) was given to Lecce by the city of Brindisi, because Saint Oronzo was reputed to have cured the plague in Brindisi. The column was one of a pair that marked the end of the Appian Way, the main road between Rome and southern Italy.
- 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 Sedile Palace was built in 1592 and was used by the local council until 1852.
- The Castle of Charles V was built in 1539-49 by Gian Giacomo dell’Acaja. It has a trapezoidal plan with angular bastions. It is attached to the Politeama Greco Opera House, inaugurated on November 15, 1884.
- The Triumphal Arch (Arco di Trionfo, commonly called Porta Napoli, “Neapolitan Gate”), erected in 1548 in honor of Charles V.
- Palazzo dei Celestini, now seat of the Province of Lecce. It was built in 1659-1695 and designed by Giuseppe Zimbalo.
- The city’s obelisk, erected in 1822 in honour of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies.
- The archaeological museum ‘Faggiano’. www.museofaggiano.it
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