Lecce Introduction Walking Tour, Lecce

Lecce Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Lecce

The beginning of Lecce is a legend. According to the story, a town existed close to the location of today's Lecce, dating from the Trojan Wars. The town was taken by Romans in the 3rd century BC. They called it "Lupiae." The Roman Emperor Hadrian didn't like the location, so he moved it 2 miles to the northeast. Lecce had a theatre and an amphitheater which can be partially seen today.

Lecce flourished in the 11th century, and the county of Lecce was one of the largest and most important fiefs in the Kingdom of Sicily. In the 16th century, under the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, fortifications were installed, and fabulous buildings and monuments were added. It became the "Florence of the South," known for its rich Baroque architecture.

The Old City is a small area accessed by the city gates. Stepping through the 500-year-old Naples Gate starts a journey through time. One passes the Roman Amphitheatre through narrow lanes lined with baroque palaces, mansions, and churches. Here is the Basilica of the Holy Cross. Its facade took 100 years to complete.

Visit the 17th-century Lecce Cathedral. The St. Orontius Square honors Lecce's first Christian bishop and the city's patron Saint. The square springs to life in late August, when the city celebrates its Saint with lights, music, and food. No local fails to attend.

Lecce has three central green areas. There is the Royal Villa Garden, with tropical plants and trees. Belloluogo Park is great for sports. The formal Giuseppe Garibaldi Gardens have sculptures and fountains. At night, squares and courtyards are packed. Bars and restaurants offer Lecce's famous street food, craft beers, and over 250 local wines.

After you have walked the city, experience a bit of Italian life. Take an evening, after-dinner stroll with the locals, and watch the Baroque palaces and churches turn to gold in the setting sun.
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Lecce Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Lecce Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Lecce (See other walking tours in Lecce)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Porta Napoli (Naples Gate)
  • Palazzo dei Celestini (Palace of the Celestines)
  • Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross)
  • Museo Ebraico di Lecce (Lecce Jewish Museum)
  • Piazza Sant'Oronzo (St. Orontius Square)
  • Castello Carlo V (Castle of Charles V)
  • Anfiteatro Romano di Lecce (Roman Amphitheater of Lecce)
  • Chiesa di San Matteo (Church of St. Mathew)
  • Teatro Romano di Lecce (Lecce Roman Theatre)
  • Lecce Cathedral and Square
Porta Napoli (Naples Gate)

1) Porta Napoli (Naples Gate)

The Naples Gate (Porta Napoli) is known locally as the Arch of Triumph (Arco di Trionfo). It is the perfect spot to begin a tour of Lecce's Baroque Old Town of twisting lanes and grand squares. The monumental Arch of Triumph was erected in 1548 by architect Gian Giacomo dell'Acaya and dedicated to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Emperor Charles of Hapsburg had achieved a telling victory over the Turks, and he thought of Lecce as a solid barrier against the East. He ordered a defense for Lecce consisting of walls and a castle to complement the coastal defenses of towers and fortified strong points. In 1539 the military architect Acaya was the man for the job.

The Porta Napoli is a 66-foot-tall gateway. The central arch is flanked by two Corinthian columns supporting an over-size triangular pediment. There are carvings on the pediment of armor, weapons, and the Habsburg/Spanish coat of arms. The Habsburg emblems were a nod to Emperor Charles V, who was on hand when the gate was opened.

At the opposite end of the Arch of Triumph square (Piazzetta Arco di Trionfo) is the Obelisk of the city. Erected in 1922, it is dedicated to Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies. The sides of the Obelisk have bas-reliefs of exotic mythological creatures, including a dolphin taking a bite of the moon.
Palazzo dei Celestini (Palace of the Celestines)

2) Palazzo dei Celestini (Palace of the Celestines)

The Palace of the Celestines (Palazzo dei Celestini) was a convent of the Celestine fathers. In 1807, during the Napoleonic occupation of Lecce, the fathers were evicted and suppressed, and the convent was put to other uses. It is now known as the Government Palace (Palazzo del Governo). The Fathers had occupied the palace for three centuries.

Gualtieri VI of Brienne, Count of Lecce, and Duke of Athens established the monastery in 1352. In 1549, as Charles V was expanding the walls and building new fortresses, the original convent was demolished and the Celestines were moved to the current palace. Architect Gabriele Riccardi started the project.

It was finished a century later by architect Giuseppe Zimbalo. Zimbalo wanted the convent to blend with the facade of the Basilica of the Holy Cross, which he had just finished. The convent has a Baroque ashlar facade. There are lanceolate points in the window pediments and cornice friezes. Work began in 1659 and ended in 1695.

The luxurious Palace of the Celestines and a favorite Angevin Castle are now the home of the Prefecture of the Province of Lecce.
Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross)

3) Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) (must see)

It was an old story in the 16th century: evict the Jews and use the land to build a church. Walter VI, Count of Brienne, had founded a monastery (Palace of the Celestines) here in the 14th century. Jews were living where the new church was to be joined to the monastery. In 1510 they were ousted from Lecce. In 1549 construction had begun.

The basilica project was plodded on for more than a hundred years. Architects Gabriele Riccardi, Francesco Antonio Zimbalo, and Cesare Penna, with the help of master stone masons from Lecce, completed the work in 1699. The church facade is lavishly decorated in a high Baroque style. Not for nothing Lecce is called "the Florence of the South."

The upper facade decorations were completed by Giuseppe Zimbalo, the nephew of Francesco Antonio. The base facade is supported by six smooth columns, three on each side of the main portal, which is flanked by four shorter columns, two on each side. The entablature is covered with bizarre, grotesque animals and strange flora.

The coats of arms include those of Philip III of Spain, Mary of Enghien, and Walter VI of Brienne. The side portals carry the arms of the Celestines. Telemons represent Turks taken prisoner at the Battle of Lepanto. Animals under the balustrade represent the Christian powers at Lepanto.

The interior is a Latin cross. Two of the five aisles are now side chapels. The high altar of the present day was removed from the church of Saints Niccolo and Cataldo in 1956. Paintings are Adoration of the Shepherds, Annunciation, Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and The Flight to Egypt.

The wooden ceiling was rebuilt in 1800. The dome of 1590 is intact. There is a total of sixteen baroque altars. The most ornate is the altar dedicated to Saint Francis of Paola. It was created by Francesco Antonio Zimbalo in 1615. It can be found in the left transept. It is regarded as the most exalted sample of Baroque sculpture in Lecce.
Museo Ebraico di Lecce (Lecce Jewish Museum)

4) Museo Ebraico di Lecce (Lecce Jewish Museum)

Before the Baroque period, Lecce had a thriving medieval Jewish community. The Jewish Museum (Museo Ebraico) is in the remains of the Old Synagogue on the lower level of the Bullfighting Palace (Palazzo Taurino). The palace is located between the Alley of Soap (Vico della Saponea) and Umberto I Street. It became a palace in 1589 when a merchant from Bergamo, Marco Trono, expanded his house.

The palace was built on the remains of the Church of the Annunciation which had been built on the remains of the neighborhood synagogue. Today, after restorations by owner Bruno Taurino, the palace houses the Jewish Museum. The museum covers Jewish history in Lecce from the 9th century until the expulsion and Pogrom of 1496.

Visitors to the site will see the pools used for ritual bathing and the doorpost that once held the mezuzah, the parchment with verses from Scripture. A 3D outline of the old Jewish quarter of Lecce has been created. It can be juxtaposed with the Baroque city on the surface.

Since its opening, the museum has offered several projects involving historical itineraries, tours, and workshops. The aim is to inculcate a knowledge of Jewish history and traditions in Lecce.
Piazza Sant'Oronzo (St. Orontius Square)

5) Piazza Sant'Oronzo (St. Orontius Square) (must see)

Here is a square dedicated to all the aspects of food, wine, music, and entertainment. In short, it is the beating heart of the city of Lecce. It can be reached in many ways: from Prato Street, Matteotti-Tempari Street, Thinchese, Fazzi, and Vittorio Emanuele II streets and by passing under the gates of Napoli, Rudiae, and San Biagio.

After restorations, its look today is a grand mixture of elements of its past. There is the rediscovered Roman Amphitheater, palaces of Fascist Rationalism, the "Seat" of Venice, Seat Palace (Palazzo del Seggio), and the Church of Holy Mary of Grace (Chiesa Santa Maria della Grazia). A 1739 bronze statue of Sant'Oronzo stands on top of a 95-foot Roman column, watching over all.

The "Oval" in the square, laid in 1930 by artist Giuseppe Nicolardi, has a mosaic of the city coat of arms. The icon is a she-wolf under a holm oak tree. The locals have a superstitious aversion to stepping on the image.

From his column, Sant'Oronzo blesses the municipal seat of Lecce, the Carafa Palace. The Roman Amphitheater, dating back to the time of Hadrian or even Augustus, is half hidden under the Holy Mary of Grace.

Since 1656 the St. Orontius Square has been dedicated to Sant'Oronzo, who is credited with saving Lecce during the dreadful epidemic of plague that had devastated the Kingdom of Naples. Today the patron saint of Lecce still keeps watch from his ancient tower.
Castello Carlo V (Castle of Charles V)

6) Castello Carlo V (Castle of Charles V)

Excavations in the courtyard reveal that the first castle was built in the 12th century. In the 16th century, by order of Spanish King Charles V, the castle was restructured to enhance its defenses. Construction started in 1537. The manor was completed as a fortress by 1553.

The building underwent significant restructuring, incorporating the original medieval edifice and establishing a curtain wall connecting four powerful bastions. Two towers survive today, the Master Tower (Torre Maestra) and the Show Tower (Torre Mostra). Of the early Norman occupation, only traces of the 12th-century wall have been excavated so far.

The design of the castle was created by architect Gian Giacomo dell'Acaya in 1539. In the process of restructuring, the Chapel of the Trinity and Monastery of the Benedictine Order was pulled down. One of the internal rooms was used as a theatre in the 18th century. From 1870 to 1979, the castle saw service as a military asset.

Presently, the Castle of Charles V is the home of the Cultural Affairs of Lecce, and it is a venue for cultural events. The ornately decorated Big Room has large stained glass windows. The rooms on the upper floor are supported by stone columns.

It is said that the Orsini del Balzo family that resided in the castle in the 14th century kept a white bear in the mansion moat. That seems unlikely, but the name "Orsini" implies bear-like qualities.
Anfiteatro Romano di Lecce (Roman Amphitheater of Lecce)

7) Anfiteatro Romano di Lecce (Roman Amphitheater of Lecce) (must see)

In the heart of Lecce, in the Sant'Oronzo Square (Piazza Sant'Oronzo) is the ancient Amphitheater of Lupiae. Once the scene of animal fights, gladiatorial contests, and other extravaganzas, the theatre was unearthed in 1906 while digging the foundations for a bank. It remains difficult to date, but most likely it was built during the reign of Augustus.

Restorations like the portico were added in the time of Hadrian. In the 11th century, parts of the amphitheater were removed and used for fortifications. Pieces have been traced to the Cathedral of Otranto. Circa the 15th century, the last remains above ground went into the foundations of the Isola del Goveratore complex of Lecce.

The amphitheater takes the form of a circus ellipse, measuring 335 feet by 269 feet. It is built of square blocks of Lecce stone and cement. The great stones supported the stepped seating, the lower ambulatory, and the radial tunnels leading to the arena.

The basic ground plan divided the structure into four sections, providing four entrances. Twenty-four pillars out of the original 68 arches still stand. The perimeter gallery had a portico. A strip of reliefs depicting hunting scenes and exotic animals ran along the parapet of the arena. It could have seated as many as 15,000 people.

On February 1st, 1906, the Roman Amphitheater was registered as an Italian "National Monument." It currently is often used for concerts and events.
Chiesa di San Matteo (Church of St. Mathew)

8) Chiesa di San Matteo (Church of St. Mathew)

On Perroni Street (Via dei Perroni) in Lecce is the Church of Saint Mathew (Chiesa di San Matteo). It was built in the latter half of the 17th century, following the designs of architect Achille Larducci di Salo. Achille was the nephew of Francesco Borromini, master of the International Baroque style seen in several Roman churches of the period.

The Church of Saint Mathew replaced a 15th-century chapel also dedicated to Saint Mathew and annexed to a Franciscan convent. Construction started in 1667 when Bishop Luigi Pappacoda laid the first stone. The project was completed in 1700.

The exterior is in two orders. The higher-order surface is convex and the surface of the lower order is concave. The lower order is in three parts sectioned off by two massive columns. The main portal is elaborate. The aedicule is crowned by the Franciscan Order coat of arms. There are two niches on the sides.

The upper order has a serliana (central opening with a semicircular arch) with columns. The serliana is capped with molding and two niches, lushly decorated. The mixtilinear molded cornice is topped by a high gable.

The inside has one nave on an elliptical plan. The chapels are set apart with pilasters having plinths for the twelve apostles. The five rich Baroque altars on the left side of the nave are dedicated to Saints Agatha, Francis, Rita, the Virgin, and the Pieta. The apse has a star vault roof and a decorated altar.

On the right side of the nave are four altars. The first is for the Madonna de la Luce, followed by altars of Sant'Anna, the Holy Family, and Sant'Oronzo.
Teatro Romano di Lecce (Lecce Roman Theatre)

9) Teatro Romano di Lecce (Lecce Roman Theatre)

The Roman Theatre of Lecce (not the Amphitheatre) was uncovered by accident while excavating the gardens of the D'Arpe Palace (Palazzo D'Arpe) and Roman Palace (Palazzo Romano) in 1929. It is thought that Octavian, not yet Emperor Augustus, had found safety in Lupiae (ancient Lecce). Feeling gratitude to the city, he ordered the construction of both theaters.

The caveat for the audience is divided into six wedges. Each wedge has twelve steps. The area of the orchestra, reserved for the choir, is reached by a narrow gallery. Before the orchestra, there are three steps of white limestone for reserved seating. Behind the steps is a low wall, and behind the orchestra is the stage.

Fragments of decoration might belong to the Augustan period. The marble statues found might date from the time of the Antonines, between 138 and 182 AD. Not as large as the Amphitheatre, the Roman Theatre is believed to have had a capacity for 5,000 theatre-goers. It featured comedies and tragedies, but no wild extravaganzas.
Lecce Cathedral and Square

10) Lecce Cathedral and Square (must see)

Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Lecce Cathedral (Duomo di Lecce) dominates the Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo). The Cathedral Square is "enclosed" on three sides by some of the most ornate Baroque buildings in Lecce. The square is accessed through a narrow entrance on the north side of the Libertini Street.

The four main buildings in the hidden square are the Cathedral, the Bishop's Palace, the Seminary, and the lofty Lecce bell tower. The main attraction is the Cathedral. The Cathedral has had three incarnations. It was first built in 1144. It was renovated in 1230 and finally rebuilt by architect Giuseppe Zimbalo in 1659.

On the southeast corner of the square, the Cathedral can be entered through two portals. The main entrance is the north portal, accessible by a cascading staircase and flanked by two stout columns. On either side of the columns are niches holding images of Saints Giusto and Fortunato.

The entablature above the portal is surmounted by a balustrade with columns and pilasters. Above the balustrade, within an ornately decorated arch, is the figure of Saint Orontius, who is credited with saving Lecce from the plague. The west entrance is divided by fluted pilasters into three sections relating to the three naves within.

The three naves are divided by pilasters and columns. The center nave and transepts have a wooden coffered ceiling installed in 1685 with paintings by Giuseppe da Brindisi. There are 12 side chapels with altars. The chapels are dedicated to saints, martyrs, the sacraments, and the lives of Jesus and Mary.

The Bishop's Palace was designed as the background to the square. The clock and facade were added in 1758. The seminary, the finest Baroque building in Lecce, was designed by Giuseppe Cino and built in 1729. It covers the whole west side of the piazza. The 230-foot bell tower was built by Giuseppe Zimbalo in 1682.

Walking Tours in Lecce, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Lecce

Create Your Own Walk in Lecce

Creating your own self-guided walk in Lecce is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Lecce's Baroque Churches Walking Tour

Lecce's Baroque Churches Walking Tour

Often defined as the “Capital of Baroque” – an artistic trend born in Italy in the 17th century, the town of Lecce has this signature style present in most of the buildings throughout its historic center. Characterized by elaborate facades and the extensive use of local stone known as "pietra leccese", Lecce's Baroque architecture reached its pinnacle in the form of churches,...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles