Lecce - The Baroque Florence
Lecce is a mythical town located on the Salentinian Peninsula, or the heel of the boot, which is also the capital. The aristocratic town, città d’arte, spiritual and intellectual rather than economical and commercial has its class that comes from centuries of civil life. Because of its Baroque style is called "The Baroque Florence".
Although it is a bit inland, Lecce has had its share of invasions and was very important in trade, especially with Venice. It was first founded as a Messapian town in the 4th century BC. Later it became the Roman town Lupiae during the Augustan period. It went on to flourish as an independent county during the Middle Ages. Around the 14th century the Turks and the Ottoman Empire began invading Lecce, even after it was annexed by the Spanish Hapsburgs in the 15th century, with Charles V as king. In 1656 thousands of its inhabitants were killed by the plague, said to have been cured by the city’s Saint Oronzo. Like so many places in Italy, the remnants of the invasions are apparent in the culture, architecture, and cuisine. Especially apparent in Lecce is the Spanish conquest, with buildings and monuments built by Charles V, with his coat of arms stamped upon them.
Even the style of the Baroque in southern Italy, but especially in Lecce, is different than that of the northern regions, with a distinctly Spanish influence. Lecce is famous for its Baroque architecture, made primarily from pietra Leccese or Lecce stone, a sort of sandstone used for carving and building, that is exported throughout the world. The stone is very soft and malleable, making it easy to carve, but then it becomes hard as granite when left for a few years in the elements, allowing it to endure. The city’s buildings that are made of this stone give the whole city the warm golden hue associated with it. Gabriele Riccardi, Francesco Antonio Zimbalo and Cesare Penna are among the more celebrated local architects of the Baroque period.
If you are near by, it is worth visiting this "hidden pearl of Italy" during one of its festivals. There is the festival of Saint Oronzo held every August 26 in honor of the Saint and also the festival of Lu Riu of Lecce held on the Tuesday after Easter. During this festival the city celebrates its history with citizens dressed in medieval costumes demonstrating ancient jobs. One should try to see the Pizzico, the traditional folk dance of the area which is danced to the beat of drummers. It is said to have legendary origins and is part of all the festivals and holidays in Lecce.
Simple pleasures define the Puglian life: kicking a ball in a square; gathering the evening's dinner greens in a nearby field; placing a few flowers at the feet of a statue of the Madonna; chattering, gregarious teenagers sitting on the church steps all night.
Lecce’s industries include flour milling, wine and olive-oil processing, food canning, and the manufacture of pottery, glass, and papier-mâché religious objects and toys.