Lecce is the principal city of the Salento Peninsula, the heel of the boot, in southern Italy’s Puglia region.
Due to a soft limestone that’s easy to work, Lecce became a center for the lavish Baroque architecture of the area called barocco leccese, ornamentation that you’ll see on many of Lecce’s churches and buildings. Sometimes called the Florence of the South because of the high concentration of monuments, Lecce’s compact historic center is a great place for walking.
Lecce is also a center for traditional paper mache crafts, cartapesta, which you’ll see in many shops along the main street, in the castle’s museum, and even in some churches, such as the Church of Santa Chiara.
Plan Your Visit to Lecce
Brindisi, less than an hour away, is the closest airport and has flights from other Italian and European cities.
Lecce is the end point of the rail line that runs along Italy’s east coast. The private rail line, Ferrovie Sud Est, serves small towns on the peninsula and has a station in Lecce so you can reach many places in the area by train. From the train station, it’s a short walk to the historic center.
If you arrive by car, park in one of the lots outside the centro storico, as traffic is restricted in the center.
Where to Stay in Lecce:
Stay in a medieval fortress at Torre Del Parco 1419, a 5-star hotel that’s a 5 minute walk from the historic center or the boutique 4-star Suite Hotel Santa Chiara near the cathedral.
Top Things to See in Lecce:
- Via Vittorio Emanuale, the main street lined with shops and cafes, runs between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Sant’Oronzo. As you walk along the street, stop in at the tourist information office and see the Church of San Giovanni Battista.
- The Cathedral of the Madonna Assunta, originally built in 1144, was renovated in the 17th century and the 70-meter tall bell tower was added. The Bishop’s Palace and Seminary, two beautiful Baroque monuments, are also in Piazza del Duomo, the cathedral square.
- On Via Umberto I, the Basilica of Santa Croce with its ornately decorated facade is considered to be the emblem of the city. Next to the church is Palazzo Celestini, a former monastery, and behind it are the municipal gardens.
- Lecce’s Roman Amphitheater, near Piazza Sant’Oronzo, was built in the second century AD and held 25,000 spectators. It’s only been partially excavated. Also in the square is a Roman column topped by a copper statue of Saint Oronzo, the city’s patron saint.
- By the remains of a Roman theater that once held 6000 spectators, the Archaeological Museum, open mornings except Sunday, houses finds from the theater’s excavation.
- Near the Roman theater, the Church of Santa Chiara, has a ceiling adorned with paper mache decorations.
- The 16th century Castle of Charles V houses the Paper Mache Museum.
- Take an underground look at layers of history discovered under a private house in the interesting Faggiano Museum. Read more about Faggiano Museum.
- Inside the Provincial Museum, on Viale Gallipoli, are artifacts from prehistory through the 20th century and local art works.
Places to Go near Lecce
- The Salento Peninsula can be explored by car from Lecce and some towns can be reached via the private rail line. Otranto is a pretty seaside town on the Salento’s west coast and on the east coast, Gallipoli is a top town to visit with an unusual historic center. Grecia Salentina, in the interior of Salento, is an area with 11 towns that retain their Greek heritage.
- In Manduria, to the west of Lecce, there’s a good Primitivo wine museum where you can taste wine, a small archaeological museum, and the Archaeological Park of the Messapic Walls with an ancient well. Just north of Manduria is the charming little town of Oria with a castle.
- The picturesque former Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate and Museum of Traditions are just north of Lecce and easy to get to by car, just east of the SS613 (Via Brindisi) at the Squinzano exit. Dating from the 12th century, the Abbey’s well-preserved Romanesque Church has remains of beautiful frescoes on its walls. Next to the church is a small museum of popular traditions with artifacts from local country life of the past including machinery used to produce olive oil, furniture, dishes, and some of the old frescoes.
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