When you think of Salento, going beyond the classic definition “lu mare, lu sole e lu ventu” (the sea, the sun and the wind), the mind immediately goes to view the bold volutes of portals and balconies, the twisted columns of altars and facades, the very rich decorations carved in the “pietra gentile” (tender stone), limestone rock with a soft consistency, malleable and easily workable with a chisel, of what is called the style par excellence of the territory: the Baroque.
From the Baroque to the Liberty
But in Lecce and in the whole of the Salento peninsula it is easy to come across another style, which often provokes a sense of estrangement given that it refers to different reference models, which are taken from the architectural production that spread in Europe between the end of the 19th century and the early 1900s: the Liberty, also known as Art Nouveau or Floral Style.
Even the Salento style is essentially characterized by floral and Moorish motifs that intertwine with medieval, Renaissance and neoclassical models. Which find their fullest expression above all in villini, small villas, destined to seasonal dwelling and used in marine locations, making them exotic and extravagant, almost as if you were suddenly catapulted to Istanbul and its charm by “A thousand and one nights”.
If most of these architectures are found in holiday resorts such as Santa Maria di Leuca, Santa Cesarea Terme and in Nardò in the “Cenate” locality, some examples are also present in Lecce and in villages like Galatone.
Just through this town, in the mid-60s of the last century, the famous art historian Mario Praz was struck by these villas of exotic and unusual taste and in one of his articles in “Il Tempo” he wrote that he had the feeling of to be in the surroundings of Copacabana.
The most interesting in Lecce are along Viale Lo Re, close to the old wall route, near Porta San Biagio. Here the attention is immediately captured by the Moorish lines and the luxuriant garden of Villa Martini, today Bray, which was once even more extended and housed two ramps, one for the ascent and the other for the descent of the carriages, now disappeared.
We have already talked about Santa Maria di Leuca and its nineteenth-century Liberty-style villas. But let us remember some of those best preserved among the 36 made between 1874 and 1882 by Ing. Giuseppe Ruggeri, Ing. Rossi and Architect Arditi, all with different styles: from the French to the Tuscan style, from Gothic to Ionic, from Chinese to Pompeian.
Among these Villa Ruggeri, which took its name from the same engineer who made it, but who today everyone knows as Villa Meridiana, because of the sundial on the facade, Villa Mellacqua in neo-Gothic style, Villa San Giovanni in the Egyptian style and Chinese-style Villa Episcopo.
Very beautiful examples also in Santa Cesarea Terme where Villa Raffaella, built in the second half of the nineteenth century commissioned by the Baroness Raffaella of the Lubelli family, follows a perfect eclectic style. How can we forget the nights spent as guests in this wonderful villa facing the sea of Santa Cesarea?
A short distance away is Villa Sticchi, built by Pasquale Ruggieri by the will of Giovanni Pasca, the first concessionary of the thermal exploitation of Santa Cesarea, which is one of the most important expressions of the Moorish style.
We also talked about the area of Cenate in Nardò. Each of the majestic villas of various Liberty styles would have something to tell: the story oozes from every wall. We mention Villa De Benedittis, with a Moorish style and built in 1920 on a project by the architect Generoso De Maglie and commissioned by the Baron Egidio Personè, that the Allied soldiers elected as their headquarters during the Second World War and Villa De Michele or Saetta, with oriental motifs, Moorish arch, friezes and columns, built in 1892 on a project by architect Ardito di Presicce, who during the Second World War was requisitioned by the Allied soldiers to take refuge the Jews escaped from the Nazi extermination, and again Villa Del Prete, designed by the architects Mashicesky and Barlinger, which was always used as a hospital during the Second World War and then to asylum for the Jews, Villa Giulio or Zuccaro which was occupied by the Slavs and Poles persecuted and, finally, the Villa del Vescovo, with a neoclassical style, the summer residence of the bishop Monsignor Petruccelli between 1755 and 1838.
With this article we wanted to propose a journey in the journey in search of traces of the past but also of a slightly less known side of that magnificent territory that is the Salento, the extreme point of the heel of Italy.