Things to Do in Lecce
Lecce is famous for its sumptuous baroque architecture, and the Lecce cathedral (Duomo di Lecce) is one of the most ornate examples. Its magnificently carved and adorned Leccese-stone facade is a 17th-century masterpiece and one of the highlights of this city on Puglia’s Salento peninsula.
Lecce is known for its 17th-century Baroque beauty, but the city’s history stretches back to the Roman empire. Nowhere is this legacy more evident than in Lecce’s Piazza Sant’Oronzo, where theLecce Roman Amphitheatre (Anfiteatro Romano di Lecce) from the second century BC is still used today for performances.
The Porta Napoli in Lecce is a triumphal arch that once served as one of three entrances into the historic city center. These gates were built into the city walls, and though the walls no longer exist the Porta Napoli still stands.
The gate was built in 1548 after a commission by the Habsburg Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, to fortify the city. Because of this funding, Lecce thanked the Emperor by decorating the Porta Napoli with the Habsburg family emblem.
Porta Napoli is a stop on many tours through Lecce. Because it doesn’t have open hours or an entry fee, it’s easy to admire at any time of day. For more explanation of the symbolism on the arch or the history behind it, however, a tour guide is useful.
In a city famous for its gorgeous baroque architecture, the Lecce Basilica of Santa Croce (Basilica Di Santa Croce) is a standout. With a glorious stone facade decorated with ornately carved animals, gargoyles, flora, and a large rose window, this 17th-century masterpiece is a feast for the eyes and a highlight of Lecce.
Lecce’s Church of Saint Irene (Chiesa di Sant'Irene) was built between 1591 and 1639 for the Theatines and dedicated to the city’s patron saint. The church is not far from the Duomo and the Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce’s city center.
The facade of the church features a statue of Saint Irene, sculpted in the early 18th century. Above that statue is Lecce’s emblem - a shelf-wolf and an oak tree. Artwork worth noting inside the church includes a number of beautiful altarpieces. A particularly large altar dedicated to Saint Cajetan dates from the late 17th century, and two other altarpieces date from the mid-17th century - including one to Saint Irene.
Some walking tours of Lecce include a stop in the Church of St. Irene, though many will make passing reference to the church from the outside.
The history of the postcard-pretty town of Lecce stretches right back to the Greek empire, when it was known as Messapi. Later, it was an important trading post in Roman times before becoming a center of learning in the Middle Ages. Today, it is famed for its peerless Baroque architecture, and there’s no better place to experience Lecce’s past than at the Faggiano Museum (Museo Faggiano), an eccentric little museum hidden away in a backwater townhouse.
Once behind the unassuming façade, a whole new world opens up; the museum reveals layer upon layer of the town’s past over several levels unearthed during excavations. Presented against a backdrop of bare plaster walls marked with inscriptions from the Knights Templar, discoveries include a Roman altar, a well that reaches down to the underground river Idume, medieval walls, the remnants of a convent and a subterranean passageway thought to run all the way to the center of the town. Scattered among the pottery shards, cisterns and crumbling statues on display are some grisly horrors, including the tomb of a newly born baby and bones from corpses buried by the nuns.