Lecce's Baroque Churches Walking Tour, Lecce

Lecce's Baroque Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Lecce

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, the number of which in the downtown area alone is astounding – 22!!! Tucked away in quiet cobblestone lanes or revealed in full splendor on spacious squares, these temples were all designed to impress.

The Basilica di Santa Croce, or the Holy Cross Basilica, is perhaps one of the most magnificent of them. Another landmark, the city's main cathedral – the 12th-century Duomo di Lecce – shows a great deal of Baroque influence manifested in beautifully detailed carvings on the exterior and a monumental bell tower.

Chiesa di Santa Chiara (St Chiara's Church) is also renowned in this respect for its lavish decoration and the use of pietra leccese, much as the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (Church of St John the Baptist). Other notable Baroque examples include the Chiesa del Gesù (the Church of Jesus) and the Chiesa di San Matteo (Church of St Mathew), to mention but a few.

Often described as "exuberant theatricality" for their flamboyant characteristics, or "architectural embroidery" for their fine decorative elements resembling the delicate work of embroidery, the churches of Lecce display meticulous craftsmanship and emphasize the dramatic and expressive nature of Baroque, evoking a sense of grandeur and spectacle. In many ways, these churches are like "symphonies in stone" wherein the intricate interplay of light and shadow enhances the sculptural quality, giving the impression of a dynamic and harmonious composition.

If you wish to immerse yourself in the unique beauty of Baroque architecture and feel a sense of awe from an up-close view of its upward-reaching forms, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Lecce's Baroque Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Lecce's Baroque Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Lecce (See other walking tours in Lecce)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Basilica di San Giovanni Battista al Rosario (Church of St. John Battista of Rosario)
  • Chiesa di Santa Teresa (Church of St. Theresa)
  • Lecce Cathedral and Square
  • Chiesa di Sant'Irene (St. Irene Church)
  • Chiesa del Gesu (Church of Jesus)
  • Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross)
  • Chiesa di Santa Chiara (St. Chiara Church)
  • Chiesa di San Matteo (Church of St. Mathew)
  • Chiesa del Carmine (Carmine Church)
Basilica di San Giovanni Battista al Rosario (Church of St. John Battista of Rosario)

1) Basilica di San Giovanni Battista al Rosario (Church of St. John Battista of Rosario)

Church of Saint John Battista of Rosario (Basilica of San Giovanni Battista al Rosario) is located in the historic center of Lecce. It has been serving as the parish headquarters since 1914 and was built by the architect Giuseppe Zimbalo between 1691 and 1728 for the Dominicans. Situated on Giuseppe Libertini Street, close to Rudiae Gate (Porta Rudiae), the basilica replaced a previous structure from 1388 when the Dominican fathers first arrived in Lecce.

The construction of the new building began in 1691 under the supervision of the seventy-year-old Giuseppe Zimbalo, who also contributed to its financing. After Zimbalo's death in 1710, other artists, including Giulio Cesare Penna the Younger and Leonardo Protopapa, completed the construction by 1728.

The basilica's façade is elaborate and divided into two levels. The lower level features two large fluted columns framing a grand entrance. Above the entrance, the Dominican symbol and the San Domenico di Guzman statue can be seen. Adjacent to the entrance are niches containing stone statues of Saint John the Baptist and Blessed Francis of the Order of Preachers.

Internally, the basilica takes the shape of a Greek cross, with a spacious octagonal chamber covered by wooden trusses. Along the internal perimeter are twelve small chapels with intricate Baroque altars, arranged within the vaulted chapels of the octagonal cross.
Chiesa di Santa Teresa (Church of St. Theresa)

2) Chiesa di Santa Teresa (Church of St. Theresa)

The Church of Saint Theresa (Chiesa di Santa Teresa) is an example of Baroque architecture located in the heart of the historic center of Lecce. Founded in 1620, this church and its adjoining convent of the Discalced Carmelites were brought to life through the vision of Giuseppe Zimbalo, a renowned master from Lecce.

The construction of the church took place on the site previously occupied by two ancient chapels dedicated to San Nicola and Santa Venera. Completed in 1630, it stands as a testament to Zimbalo's exceptional craftsmanship and design sensibilities.

Throughout its history, the church and convent have undergone various transformations and repurposing. In 1831, the archconfraternity of the SS. Crucifix and the Gonfalone initiated a restoration project to bring the church back to its former glory. Their efforts breathed new life into the structure, rescuing it from a state of neglect.

The facade of the Church of Saint Theresa, although left unfinished, exhibits remarkable architectural elements. Divided into two orders, it captivates visitors with its volumetric complexity and the decorative exuberance of the Corinthian columns and festoons. The lower order is adorned with columns featuring fluted shafts and two niches that house stone statues of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist.

Above the entrance portal, one can observe the coat of arms of the Archconfraternity of the Crucifix. The upper order, though lacking a crowning pediment, showcases a large window and intricate floral compositions reminiscent of the facade of the Church of the Rosary.
Lecce Cathedral and Square

3) 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.
Chiesa di Sant'Irene (St. Irene Church)

4) Chiesa di Sant'Irene (St. Irene Church)

The Saint Irene Church (Chiesa di Sant'Irene) is a remarkable Catholic place of worship located in the historic center of Lecce. It holds a special dedication to Saint Irene of Lecce, who served as the protector of the city until 1656 when Pope Alexander VII declared the patronage of Lecce to be held by another holy bishop, Saint Oronzo.

Construction of the church began in 1591 under the guidance of the Theatine architect Francesco Grimaldi and was finally completed in 1639. The consecration ceremony was conducted by the bishop of Brindisi, marking a significant milestone in the church's history.

Throughout the years, the Saint Irene Church has witnessed several significant historical events. In 1797, it received a visit from King Ferdinand IV of Naples, highlighting its importance and recognition. Additionally, in October 1860, the church played a crucial role in hosting the plebiscite operations to determine Lecce's decision to join the Kingdom of Italy. Despite the suppression of the adjoining Theatine convent in 1866, the church remained open for worship, emphasizing its enduring spiritual significance.

Architecturally, the church draws inspiration from the design of the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome, where Francesco Grimaldi had previously worked. The facade of the Saint Irene Church features a double-order layout, characterized by superimposed pilasters adorned with festoons. The lower order incorporates columns interspersed with empty niches and cartouches, while the upper order showcases a large window, adding an element of grandeur and elegance to the structure.
Chiesa del Gesu (Church of Jesus)

5) Chiesa del Gesu (Church of Jesus)

The Church of Jesus is situated in the historical center of Lecce. It served as the headquarters for the Society of Jesus for many centuries. Construction of the church began in 1575 to accommodate the Jesuits who arrived in the city. The religious edifice, designed by Giovanni De Rosis, a Jesuit from Como, opened for worship in 1577.

The architecture of the building was inspired by the Church of Jesus in Rome, which is considered the main church of the Jesuit order. The facade is simple and linear, divided into two sections with volutes connecting them. It features double rows of pilasters interrupted by a projecting entablature.

The interior follows a Latin cross plan with a short transept and four interconnected chapels on each side of the central nave. The wooden coffered ceiling is adorned with canvases depicting the Glories of the Society of Jesus by Giuseppe da Brindisi.

Inside the church, valuable paintings and sculptures are dating from the late 16th century to the early 19th century. The left side of the church contains the altars of Madonna di Loreto with a 17th-century statue of Madonna, San Girolamo with a canvas by painter Girolamo Imparato, San Michele Arcangelo (1746), and the Annunciation with a canvas dating back to 1596.

The presbytery area houses the impressive main altar made of Lecce stone, constructed in 1699 and attributed to sculptor Giuseppe Cino. At the base of the altar, there is an 18th-century walnut wooden choir added by the Benedictines of Montescaglioso, who took over the church after the suppression of the Jesuits.
Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross)

6) 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.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara (St. Chiara Church)

7) Chiesa di Santa Chiara (St. Chiara Church)

The Church of Santa Chiara is situated in the historical center of Lecce, in Vittorio Emanuele II Square. Its construction dates back to 1429, commissioned by Bishop Tommaso Ammirato. However, between 1687 and 1691, the church underwent extensive renovations led by architect Giuseppe Cino.

The façade of the church has a convex shape and is divided into two sections. The lower section features a decorated portal with plant motifs. Above the portal, there is an oval niche supported by smiling angels, displaying the coat of arms of the Poor Clares. The upper section of the façade repeats the arrangement of niches and pilasters, with a large central window and a tympanum with lateral volutes.

The church has an elongated octagonal plan, with a deep presbytery covered by a star vault. The walls are divided into two sections by a serrated cornice. The lower section features Corinthian pilasters and short chapels that house elaborate altarpieces.

The altars are intricately decorated with twisted columns adorned with angels, birds, scrolls, garlands, and sculptures. They hold wooden statues from the late 17th century, depicting various saints. There are seven large windows with a mixtilinear profile, alternating with niches containing statues of the Blessed Beatrice, Agnese, Amata, and Ortolana.

The presbytery stands out with its grand high altar, featuring architectural elements and two twisted columns, housing the statue of Saint Clare of Assisi in the central niche. Of special note is the presence of the canvas of Sant'Agnese by artist Francesco Solimena, located near the altar of San Francesco d'Assisi.
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.
Chiesa del Carmine (Carmine Church)

9) Chiesa del Carmine (Carmine Church)

Carmine Church (Chiesa del Carmine) in Lecce is a beautiful architectural gem. It is part of a complex that includes a Carmelite convent, showcasing the region's rich history and art.

The Carmelites settled in Lecce in 1481 but moved within the city walls after a seismic event in 1546. They chose the church of Saint Nicholas as their new location, which became the foundation for the construction of the Carmine Church we see today.

Construction of the church started in 1711 and was completed in 1737. The facade, crafted by architect Giuseppe Cino, is a standout feature with intricate friezes and decorations. It is divided into three orders, highlighting statues, windows, and mixtilinear friezes. The church's design blends curved outer surfaces with the lines of a Latin cross, creating a unique and visually appealing effect.

Inside, visitors will find stunning nave altars designed by artist Mauro Manieri between 1731 and 1737. These altars showcase painted works of art from the 18th century, including the Annunciation, Saint Elmo, and the Visitation of the Virgin.

The Chiesa del Carmine is a testament to the craftsmanship and religious dedication that shaped Lecce's history. It is a must-visit for those interested in exploring the cultural heritage of the region and appreciating Italian art and architecture.

Walking Tours in Lecce, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Lecce

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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.
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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles