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Lecce: The Florence of the South

Lecce is the largest city in southern Puglia, and a great central location to stay if you are planning on making a few day trips around the Salento Peninsula. The city is known for its spectacular Baroque architecture and Roman history. A quintessentially southern Italian town, bursting with piazzas and palazzi, it will remind you of Florence. Here is a little bit about the town itself.

Brief History

It is rumoured that Lecce was once named Sybar and existed around the time of the Trojan War. Around the 8th Century BC the Cretans (Messapii) settled here before they were conquered by the Romans in the third century BC, seizing the city and renaming it Lupiae. Later on, Emperor Hadrian (of the famed Hadrian’s Wall of Scotland) moved the city northeast of its original founding and renamed it Licea, which the current modern city of Lecce is built on top of today. It is at this time that the beautiful Amphitheatre was built that you can see now has been partially excavated in the city centre.

After changing hands a few more times, the eleventh century saw Lecce come under the rule of the Kingdom of Sicily where it soon became an important commercial and economic centre, gaining trade prominence with its intensive commerce with Florence, Genoa, Venice, and the Near East. It was during this time that the cultural life bloomed and the city earned its nicknames “Florence of the Baroque” and “Athens of Puglia.” In the 15th Century it became the seat of the first Christian bishop, Orontius of Lecce, who later became the patron saint of the city when he was recognised by the Roman Catholic Church.

Things to see and do

Many of the constructions that are still standing today in Lecce are a result of the architectural boom of the fifteenth century. These include the city walls, the castle of Charles V, the Basilica di Santa Croce, and many Baroque style buildings that give the city its distinctive look, including the Bishop’s palace, the seminary, and the Palazzo della Prefettura, housing the provincial museum. To understand the city fully we recommend taking a walking tour through the city with an official guide to learn about the buildings and Apulian life in the south. You can enjoy a walking tour on our Enchanted Puglia tour or simply contact us to organise one to fit in with your itinerary.

The Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce, the gateway to the Salento Peninsula

The Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce, the gateway to the Salento Peninsula

The cities spiderweb of streets is the perfect setting for travellers to enjoy this quintessential southern Italian town, with surprises around every corner. There are plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants lining the streets offering refreshments and delicious pastries (check out Caffé Alvino in the main square). Be sure to try the traditional Salento iced coffee, Caffé Salentina or Caffé Leccese, made with an espresso poured in a glass full of iced cubes, enriched with a few drops of pure homemade almond milk!

Caffé Salentina

Caffé Salentina

Later in the evening you could also enjoy an aperitive on the rooftop at Risorgimento Resort, offering wonderful views and old school glamour.

Don’t forget to enjoy some shopping while you’re there too…As well as wine and olive oil, Lecce is also well-known for manufacturing pottery, glass, and papier-mâché religious objects and toys.

It’s worth staying in Lecce for a few nights to fully soak in the atmosphere, relax and unwind.  Its location also makes it a gateway to more of Salento’s spectacular seaside towns, which you can do day trips to. Read more about places to visit on the Salento Peninsula here.

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