World Facts Index > Italy > Lecce

The city of Lecce is on an upland plain fifty metres above sea level. It has around 100.000 inhabitants and the centre has a trapeze like shape. The old, urban centre, called "Lecce vecchia" or 'Old Lecce' used to be divided into four quarters; S.Giusto, S.Martino, S.Biagio and Rusce, by gates with the same names. Since 1606, these districts were also four parishes. The area was encircled by a city wall, like a fortress. The city is characterised by splendid and magnificent, baroque architecture, in typical, Lecce stone that is white and malleable. The historic centre is surrounded by a wall, which includes Porta S.Biagio in the west and Porta Napoli in the north west. The modern ringroad is beyond these ancient walls, which links the old city to the new. This part has a totally different architectural style with offices, shops and houses.

In the city centre is Piazza S.Oronzo, in an area where there are many historic streets. These are narrow, winding streets, full of charm and the square has been the heart of local activity for centuries. The square has not changed much; even in nineteenth century prints, it appears very similar to how it is today, with the same layout of many monuments. The most important buildings in the city were here, such as the Palazzo dell'Udienza, from the eighteenth century, which was near a group of houses, between Via Visconti, Via degli Orefici and Vico Morenigo, which had the customs office. There was also the Sedile, rebuilt in 1592, whose loggia and arches still remain, as well as some of the portico, called the Capande. There are also important churches such as S.Maria della Grazia and the Cappella di S.Marco dei Veneziani, both of which date from the sixteenth century, as well as the statue of the patron saint, S.Oronzo.

Around the square were nine streets; Via degli Acaya, Via Scarambone, Via Cepolla, Via S.Marco, Via dei Templari, Via Mocenigo, Via Visconti, Via Bagliva and Via del Mercato, now called Via Vito Fazzi, that led to Piazza delle Erbe, the site of the covered market.

The Venetian style area was very picturesque, with a castle near the square, including Via Mocenigo and Via Visconti, opening onto the side of Palazzo dell'Udienza. The roads were narrow and fascinating, surrounded by houses that were very close together, with old, craftsmen's workshops that no longer exist. There are still distinctive kerbstones on the sides of the roads. There was a gallery that led to the Cappella di S.Salvatore, linking Via dei Templari with Via Matteotti. These roads were the continuation of ground floor houses and workshops where daily life went on, with its typical noises and smells, also hosting merchants from various parts of the world, numerous priests and noblemen who passed by. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this district started to be destroyed, and it was totally changed. The first thing to be transformed was the Palazzo della R.Udienza, which was the court and the prison and this continued through the Portico delle Capande, to Via S.Marco. In 1900 the building of the Banca d'Italia was built in Via Scarambone, a none too elegant construction, that did nothing to enhance the surrounding architecture. A number of houses were destroyed so that it could be built, and called "isola del Governatore". The remains of the Roman ampitheatre were discovered at this time as well as ancient tombs. Unfortunately, in the fascist period, all the streets were changed and certain, unattractive buildings were put up including the Inps, Banco di Roma, Ina, Banca Commerciale Italiana and Banca del Lavoro buildings. Outside the square area, were the Quattro Spezierie, formed by linking four streets; Via Imperatore Augusto, Via dei Tribunali, Via Vittorio Emanuele II and Via S.Marco: this was the meeting place of the bourgeoisie. As for the more modern areas, the Mazzini district is now the modern centre, and is full of shops and new buildings as well as many important banks. In the centre is Piazza Mazzini, which has a square shape and a large, modern style fountain. It is surrounded by trees and there is always a very lively atmosphere here at all times of the day and night. Via Trinchese, has all kinds of shops, from luxurious boutiques to more reasonably priced stores as well as important cinemas and theatres.

The S.Lucia district takes its name from the S.Lucia di fuori Chapel, and has a square shape. It is delimited on the west by Via degli Orti and by Viale d'Italia in the east, by the S.Pasquale road in the south and the S.Lucia road in the north that links Piazza delle Erbe with the Convent of S.Maria del Tempio. The three main roads in the area are Via degli Orti, Viale d'Italia and Via Cavour. There is a picture of this area dating from 1822, which shows the whole city surrounded by walls apart from this district. It was considered an unsightly area, with a long string of mostly one floor houses, set out on long, narrow roads. However, opinions changed even at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the houses became taller and the uniform look of the area started to change as important buildings were constructed. There are not only modest houses in this district, but also notable architecture, such as the eclectic Villa Indraccolo, the Moorish Villa Himera, the Neo-Renaissance style Palazzo Coppola, and various chapels inside the cemetery. The Palazzo del Senatrore Tamborino is one of the best examples of art nouveau architecture in the city, and the most interesting building in this area.

Il Parco di fuori - This area was chosen at the beginning of the fifteenth century by Maria d'Enghen and G.A.Orsini as a place of rest and meditation. In 1419, they built the new residence in the park and the site was added to throughout the century with other buildings, such as the Chapel of S.Giacomo, the Church del Tempio and the Church of S.Lazzaro. The area was divided into two; the "Parco di dentro" (inside of the park), which included the
Torre del Parco and the princes rooms, and the "Parco di fuori" (the outside of the park), from the tower to the urban walls. This was a perfect place for fairs, walks and markets. It was enlarged in the sixteenth century, and between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was closed for walks under French domination, and at the beginning of the twentieth century, when urbanisation was in full flow, the Viale del Parco was seen as the only route that had to be preserved at all costs. There are now various, interesting average cost and expensive houses here.

Il Tridente di Porta S.Biagio - Porta S.Biagio is the point that links three road networks, where Viale del Parco, the road to Lizzanello and the road to Maglie-S.Maria di Leuca converge. It has always been a focal point of the city, and it was also a favourite place with the fascists. A monument to the fallen was built here in 1928. The little garden of Porta S.Biagio, together with the streets, determines a continuity between public and private green areas in this district. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Ospedale Vito Fazzi became the main sight in this area.

S.Lazzaro - Near the Tridente di Porta S.Biagio, by Torre del Parco, at the end of the nineteenth century, there was another small, expansion along the S.Lazzaro road, creating this area. The church was already built in the fifteenth century, and outside it is the column bearing a statue of the saint, giving the nickname of "Sannà" to the area. There is also the hospital and two other religious buildings opposite; on one side the Church of S.Lucia, where the fair was traditionally held, and on the other the Church of S.Maria del Tempio. This had a convent annex, built by the 'Riformanti' in the sixteenth century and then followed by the 'osservanti' (now the building has been demolished). Urbanisation concentrated in the area surrounding the church in its initial phases, the church along Via Caracciolo and Via Pisanelli. The houses are in a common style and are not particularly interesting.

The Castello Area - From 1865, the area surrounding the castle became the main area of urban expansion. It started with Borgo S.Lucia, and then the area between the Caserma Tempio and the Villa Comunale was urbanised. In the 1930's, the old city centre was moved to the new city; the Palazzo delle poste and the Castello would become the new centre of this city. There is a daily market in the Piazza delle poste.

Fulgenzio e il Borgo Adriano - The central point of this area is the Villa di Fulgenzio, which is a complex that includes large gardens. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the old Convento dei Celestini in Palazzo dell'Intendenza was transformed and a series of changes and renovations were carried out, especially in the Villa Comunale, which became an integral part of the urban area. It is now a pleasant area to walk around in, as it is very airy and full of greenery.

The Railway Station was opened in 1866, in the south west area of the city, near the walls and the Viali, that have become a scenic point for travellers. A new gate has opened at the end of the access road, which has made the area even more scenic. The Viale della Stazione has been enlarged many times. Important roads here include the Viale della Stazione and the Viale Gallipoli which is the place to find Museo Castromediano, the Pinacoteca and the Biblioteca Provinciale (provincial library). On Viale Gallipoli and Viale Lo Re are little villas in a narrow, long area between the walls and the Viali. This used to be one of the most enchanting areas as there were many villas here with gardens.

There are still two more areas here of note one of which is Borgo Pizziniaco, which is outside the walls and has a strip built for the 'noisy arts'. Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a range of villas were built here including Villa Aurelia, Villino Reale and Villino de Giorgi. Borgo Idria is the other area, which is opened by the large, nucleus of the prison, on the south west of the city, outside Porta Rudiae. The prison is in the complex of Padri della missione. The area takes its name from the nearby Church of S.Maria dell'Idria, whose convent was one of the most beautiful in the city in the eighteenth century. The area is characterised by a homogenous aspect, and is delimited on one side by Via di Novoli, and on the other by Porta Napoli. The main road is Campi road, which is also called Via D'Aurio. This is the near the Triumphal Arch of Carlo V from 1548, and the Obelisk which was built in honour of Ferdinando I. Near to here is the road of camposanto, which ends with the belltower of the Church of S.Irene. Porta Napoli is the place to find the Centre of the University of Lecce and this area is very popular with young people and has many bookshops and student shops.

History of Lecce

The first people to settle in the city were the Messapi, of Illyric origin. Many archeological remains have been found from these people, which are visible today, such as tombs, wall remains and vases decorated in a typical style. These are now kept in the Museo Provinciale Castromediano. Lecce was probably not a proper city in those times, but only a village that was dependent on nearby, important Rudiae, which is also famous for being the birthplace of the latin poet Quinto Ennio. Towards 3 B.C. Lupiae, the ancient name of the city of Lecce, was certainly a 'statio militium romana' (used by the roman army) and it then became a 'municipium' and finally a 'colonia'. During Hadrian's Empire (117-138) the ampitheatre and the theatre were built as well as an important link with port of Adriano (now S.Cataldo). Marco Aurelio planned the constitution who, according to legend, was a descendant of the Salentine king, Malennio, the mythical founder of Lupiae. Marco Aurelio made a lot of developments, both from a commercial and cultural point of view. However, when Nero was the ruler, he evangelised the place, with the work of Publio Oronzio, who was the protobishop and the proto-martyr of the city. The city was then conquered by Totila, and was destroyed many times, in particular in 542 and in 549, during the greek-gothic war. The urban centre was then concentrated in the area around the amphitheatre area, around which many buildings were constructed.

After being fought over for centuries by the Byzantines, Lombards and Arabs, the city remained under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire for about five centuries. The Byzantines gave culture and greek traditions to the city, making it an area known for its cultural and religious life. After a long period of decadence, the arrival of the Normans brought splendour back to the city. Roberto il Guiscardo started the Earldom of Lecce. Tancredi, son of Ruggero di Puglia and grandson of Ruggero II (1105-1154) became the Count of Lecce and of the two Sicilies and he built the important Church of SS.Nicolò and Cataldo. The city became the Earldom in which the Altavilla formed two Benedictine communities who, with the Cathedral built by Bishop Formoso, were the most important centres of Norman, religious politics, in the Byzantine lands of the South of Italy.

Lecce became the most important centre of Terra d'Otranto and this pre-eminence was recognised by Ferdinando d'Aragona, who maintained the magistrature of appeal in the city, in 1463. Fifteenth century Lecce, was the home of many important characters in Italian culture such as Antonio de Ferraris Galateo and Roberto Caracciolo. This was a time of economic development and of trade with Venetian, Tuscan, Lombard, Genoan, Jewish, Greek, Albanian and Dalmatian merchants. The Convent of the Domenicans, the Monasteries of the Clarisse and theNova and the Stanziamento degli Olivetani were all built at this time, giving life to a current that would expand into many religious orders in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.

Lecce reached its golden age with Charles V, who built the famous Castello, the walls of the city, and the triumphal arch that is now called Porta Napoli, because it used to lead to the capital of the kingdom. At that time, Lecce was second in importance to Naples in the region. This was the time of the famous, Lecce, baroque, in which many beautiful churches were built, including Santa Croce and S.Irene, and buildings such as Palazzo del Seggio. At that time there were four districts in the city; Rusce, S.Biagio, S.Martino and S.Giusto, which corresponded to the gates and parishes with the same names. There were great palaces, belonging to aristocrats and merchants as well as houses and churches built by the most popular orders of Catholic reform; the Jesuits and the Teatini. People such as Ferrante Loffredo, the provincial president, Scipione Ammirato, who founded the Academy of the Transformed, Gabriele Ricciardi, architect and sculptor who designed the S.Croce church, gave life to the city.

In the seventeenth century, civilization took hold of the city, by means of literature, taste, and culture. The Column of S.Oronzo was built at this time, as a thank you for the end of the plague, and Zimbalo created a new, architectural language that was ornamental, magnificent and sparkling. From 1647-48 there was an anti-Spanish movement that was repressed in a very violent way. At this time buildings were constructed such as the Duomo, the Church of S.Angelo, the Church of S.Chiara and the Palazzo del Governo.

From 1711-1719, Lecce was known as a 'città-chiesa' (church-city) and became home to a famous, architecture school which specialised in set design. The two Manieri, father and son, were at the head of this trend, and with eclectic and original taste, gave the city the characteristic look that is still striking today. At the same time, the bishop Sozi-Carafa, an art lover, entrusted many plans to the painter, Oronzo Tiso. The city was dominated by the Austrians for a time, after which, in 1734, there was a revolt against the Bourbons, and it was feared that the Spanish would take over again. However, the nobles violently appropriated power. In 1799, the city belonged to the Neapolitan Republic for just one day, and then it returned into the hands of Ferdinando IV, who had welcomed, for two years first Gioacchino Murat and then Giuseppe Bonaparte, who compromised Lecce on their way to the central city of the kingdom. With the restoration of Bourbon rule, the city was visited by Ferdinando II, who, in the name of the Great Criminal Court of Terra d'Otranto severely condemned the Salentine patriots for their deeds of 48. The foundling hospice was named after him, and then renamed after Garibaldi in 1860. Lecce was part of the enlightenment culture, and many law and mathematic schools were set up here. There was also lively activity from the schools, theatre and press, as well as eminent, legal tradition. There was also decorative tradition, that took the form of papier mache art. The city was by now famous for its art, and called 'the Athens of Puglia', 'Baroque Florence' and 'Rococco paradise'.

In 1821, Lecce took part in the Carbonari movement and began to resist against the Austrians. It formed a provisional government in 1848 and the liberal party was founded. The city then signed the memorandum of the Confederate Provinces and participated in the southern, liberal movement. 1860 was the year that of Italian Unification, and after unity Lecce flourished between 1895 and 1915, and began to expand beyond the walls. In 1927, the Province of Lecce was separated from Taranto and Brindisi. Since then it has continued to develop in every way, with independence and speed.

The Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 54 55 58 66 75 82 88 87 81 71 64 56
Avg. Low 40 40 44 47 54 61 65 66 61 55 48 42
Avg. Precip. 2.5 in 2.1 in 2.7 in 1.5 in 1.1 in 0.8 in 0.7 in 1.3 in 2.1 in 3.3 in 3.6 in 3.3 in


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