Lecce is a great pedestrian city, therefore the best way to visit and fully enjoy its beauties is to have a stroll about in its historical center, cozy and familiar it is referred to the “living room town”. The view you will have is a triumph of balconies in wrought iron, suspended gardens, facades of churches and palaces, coats of arms, atlas and baroque friezes, portals, arches and statues carved in the soft local stone, Pietra Leccese.
You can start your walk from Piazza Sant’Oronzo, where the wooden and copper statue of the saint patron rises in the act of blessing the city. To be able to see it, you must look up as the statue is mounted on a 29 meters high column, which was once located in the Via Appia in Brindisi, and was then donated to Lecce as a token of gratitude for a grace received by the saint. If you continue to look around, besides the Roman amphitheater dating back to the second century AD which occupies most of the square, you can admire the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Church of San Marco and the Sedile, dating 1592, which houses a bust of Charles III of Bourbon with a thank you letter written in Spanish for the gift of two ampoules of miraculous oil from the lantern of Sant’Oronzo.
Walking through the streets, captivated by the sparkling Baroque, we realize that the description of the town as a “swarm of bees”, given by the art historian Cesare Brandi fits perfectly with Lecce, able to amaze for its wealth and excess. The next stop is the Basilica of Santa Croce with the adjacent former Convento dei Celestini. Here it is almost impossible to embrace with a single glance the entire range of symbols to which the creativity of the salentini stonemasons gave birth. Piazza del Duomo is in itself a miracle of balance of spaces and volumes: here you are forced to look up to admire the five floors bell tower at a height of 70 meters.
Looking skywards you can easily notice the details of the three doors that enclose the old city of Lecce. On the summit of Porta Rudiae there are the statues of Sant’ Oronzo, Sant’Irene and San Domenico. On the top of Porta Napoli, also called Arco di Trionfo, triumphal Arch, you can see displayed the triangular pediment, with the imperial insignia carved on it, whereas Porta San Biagio has on its top the statue of the saint who gives the door its name.
Once you cross Porta San Biagio, just on the right, a recommended stop for those of you travelling with a four – legged friend like we do, is the Bar Astoria (Piazza d’Italia 2 – Info: +39 0832 302081), the first dog friendly café of the city, where you can drink a cappuccino and enjoy a pasticciotto, with your dog. The gardens around the Monumento ai Caduti, the war memorial, overlook Piazza Italia. Here Arturo met Ettore, a 8 year old Golden Retriever, while we were entertained with his owners and then we walked together along Via dei Perroni to the Church of San Matteo.
(Ph. di Lucilla Cuman e traduzione di Monia Saponaro)