Life in Lecce
Lecce, a beautiful city in southern Italy, is a place to experience not just visit. The narrow streets of gold-coloured sandstone, peaceful piazzas and extravagant baroque churches have made Lecce a must-see when on holiday to Puglia. The small city has also been nicknamed the “Florence of the South” due to its grand architecture, yet its unique charm sets it apart from the bustling Tuscan tourist destination. Read on to find out more about life in Lecce.
There are legends which say a town existed around where Lecce is now back at the time of the Trojan Wars, but we know for sure that Romans occupied the area in the 3rd century. The Romans also moved the town 3km north and named it Licea. Emperor Hadrian fortified the town and built roads linking to the coast, along with an amphitheatre and theatre.
Following the fall of Rome, Lecce came under the control of the Byzantium around 549 and remained so until the Normans invaded in the 11th century. The city was part of the Kingdom of Sicily and an important place in southern Italy.
In the 17th century, the baroque culture took over Lecce, and over the next hundred years, the city was transformed, with many buildings given makeovers and new ones built by ambitious young architects. The baroque style found in Lecce is so distinctive it even acquired its own name “barraco leccese” or Lecce baroque.
Things to See
There are several must-see places when visiting Lecce, and a good way to tick them off is by picking up a map from the tourist office located on Piazza Sant’Oronzo, which will help you tick off one of the spots on our must-see list.
Roman Amphitheatre and Piazza Sant’Oronzo
The main square of the city is Piazza Sant’Oronzo, where you can see the remains of the ancient 25,000 person amphitheatre, the column which has a statue of Saint Oronzo at the top and the 20-metre tall bronze clock, Orologio Delle Meraviglie, which was created in 1955. The piazza is a popular spot in the city and is busy throughout the day. However, you can take in the sights by stopping for a coffee or gelato at one of the many cafés on the square as the piazza is perfect for people watching.
Piazza del Duomo
The Piazza del Duomo is the place to go to snap some pictures of the incredible baroque architecture. Stepping onto the open square from the narrow alleys and streets is fantastic and gives you the chance to admire the local scenery. The Duomo itself was built in 1144 but was given a Baroque facelift in the 17th century with the addition of a 70-metre high bell tower, and it’s worth returning in the evening to see the cathedral lit up. Also looking onto the piazza is the bishops residence and seminary.
Basilica di Santa Croce
If you want to find one of the best examples of Lecce baroque architecture, seek out the Basilica di Santa Croce, which boasts one of the most intricate baroque facades in Italy. The amount of detail is stunning, and it took 200 years to be completed. You can see all sorts of designs, patterns and animals worked into the stone, from sheep and dodos to cherubs and mythical creatures. The architect of the basilica was Guiseppe Zimbalo, who was one of the most prominent in the baroque movement. His other work in the city includes the column of Sant’Oronzo, the Celestine palace and the bell tower on the Duomo.
Image credit Lupiae
Chiesa of Saints Niccolò and Cataldo
Lecce is home to several churches; some of the ones to look out for include Santa Chiara, San Matteo and San Giovanni Battista. One to definitely tick off your list, though, is the Norman church of Saints Niccolò and Cataldo. Built in 1180, it was one of the buildings embellished in the baroque style during the 16th century, but its impressive Romanesque rose window and portal remained. The result is a mix of strict Norman and extravagant baroque architecture.
Where to Eat and Drink
Like everywhere in Italy, Lecce has some fantastic places for eating out, but be aware most places close for an afternoon break between 2pm and 5pm. Before sitting down for an evening meal, be sure to take part in the passegiata, where the locals take a pre-dinner stroll through the streets greeting friends and family.
The couple behind Baldo Gelato make the best gelato in the city. Made with fresh, natural ingredients, there are classics on the menu such as dark chocolate and pistachio, along with other unique flavours. A small cone is priced around €2.50.
Pizza & Co
A pizzeria that serves by the slice, Pizza & Co make round Neapolitan pizzas and sell big slices, perfect for a light lunch when exploring the city. You can choose what’s on the counter or pick from the menu, and they will cook it to order. Whole pizzas can be ordered too, with toppings including Margherita, feta and olives and Burrata.
Alle Due Corti
Alle Due Corti is a great place to try the regional cuisine. There is a variety of meat and vegetarian dishes on the menu, such as Ciceri e Tria, consisting of thick pasta strands, chickpeas and black pepper. You will find some pasta dishes are fried, which Puglians did to meals to make up for the lack of meat in poorer times.
Trattoria le Zie
A top choice trattoria in the city, Trattoria le Zie is the restaurant you want to try delicious “cucina casareccia” or home cooking. It feels like you are dining in a private home, with a welcoming hostess and servers rushing back and forth from the kitchen. It is often full of locals and visitors alike, so booking is a must if you want to try some tasty Lecce dishes.
Dishes to Look For
Each region of Italy have special dishes you should try when you visit, and Puglia is no different. If you want to try some traditional foods, look out for frisa, a hard bread topped with tomatoes, rustic leccese, a puff pastry stuffed with mozzarella, tomato and bechamel best served warm, orecchiette, a Puglian pasta served with tomato or cima di rape (turnip tops).
Where to Shop
Lecce has lots of independent clothing, jewellery and crafts shops and stalls. Head to Via Palmieri and Via Vittorio Emanuele II to find some good stalls selling quirky gifts and clothes to take home. If you want chain shops, head to Via Salvatore Trinchese off the main piazza, many of which stay open in the afternoon.
Lecce also has a couple of markets to browse if you want to pick up fresh produce to cook at your villas in Puglia with a pool. There is the morning market outside Porta Rudiae and the biweekly market out of the centre near the stadium, which is a lot bigger, selling all sorts of food and produce.
Best Time to Visit Lecce
Lecce is generally warm throughout the year, so even when visiting in the colder months, you can be sure to experience a few hot days. The summer months of July and August are the hottest and get the busiest crowds at the tourist hotspots. June and September have good weather and fewer crowds. In April, May and October, you may have a few rain showers, but the weather is still good enough that you won’t be needing a jumper or jacket when heading out in the evening. In winter, you won’t be spending as much time on the beaches near the city, and the weather is a bit cooler, but you can benefit from fewer crowds and lower prices.