Lecce's elegant salon is Piazza Sant'Oronzo, where can be also found the Roman Amphitheatre built in the 1st and in the 2nd century and brought to life at the beginning of the last century.
In Piazza Sant'Oronzo we find the column and, on its top, the statue of Saint Oronzo, Lecce's patron saint. Opposite to the statue there is the harmonious small building, called "Il Sedile", the ancient town hall, where once the mayor used to give his speeches. Next to this building, which combines different styles, from the gothic ogival arch to the little Renaissance and the "colonna inglobata" (encompassed column), typical of Lecce, we find the little church of Saint Mark, a very important evidence of the presence of a merchant colony arrived here from the Veneto in order to establish new trading activities.
In a decoration it is possible to notice the winged lion, the unequivocal Venice's emblem. Another sight on this square, in front of the amphitheatre, is the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church.
At the centre of the square there is a mosaic representing the emblem of the city: a wolf and a live oak in the background.
Sant'Oronzo Column was once in the old square, and this latter was different than today.
The present position of the statue was decided after the urban transformation at the beginning of 20th century, due to the discovery of the Roman Amphitheatre. Originally the statue was at the centre, today it is on a side of the square.
It was raised between 1660 and 1686 by Giuseppe Zimbalo using the shaft and the capital of a column in the via Appia, in Brindisi. The Column was donated by the people of Brindisi to the city of Lecce because of the miracle made by Sant'Oronzo. On the top of the column, almost 29 meters, there is the copper plated wooden statue representing the Saint, blessing the city. The statue, dated 1739, replaces the statue that was burnt two years before the present one from a petard during the patron saint celebration. The statues were created in Venice, both.
Roman Amphitheatre It is next to Piazza Sant'Oronzo, today are still visible the arena, the lower terraces and part of the external wall.
Built in the 2nd century, the Amphitheatre measured nearly 102 m. x 83 m. and could fit up to 25,000 spectators. Many years later it was buried and towered by other buildings. In 1901, it was brought to life during the works of excavation for the constructions of the local offices of the Bank of Italy.
Cosimo De Giorgi, who planned those works, considered this discovery as "A coat of arms found by chance poking around our thing when we didn't know about its existence yet".
The Amphitheatre, built using "pietra leccese" (a particular kind of local stone, very appreciated), had not only a simple marble surface it also showed decorations, which are now preserved in the
Museum of Lecce.
In the Amphitheatre, seats high boosts as we go upstairs in order to ensure a good visibility from everywhere. External surfaces were covered with different materials, according to their importance.
There is no information about the person who decided to build the Amphitheatre, nor about the age of this monument.
Recent studies established the construction of the site in the Augustan era, but in 1938 was discovered an inscription with the name of Trajan. This discovery went lost. Because of its size, just a portion of the Amphitheatre has been brought to life, among these we have Piazza Sant'Oronzo, the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and some surrounding buildings. Under the decree of the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, based on proposal of Mr. Bernabei (member of the Italian Parliament), the Amphitheatre was declared National Monument.
In via dell' Arte della Cartapesta we found the Roman Theatre. Discovered in 1929, it dates back to Augustan Era. This Theatre was probably reserved for the people of Lupiae, while the Amphitheatre in Piazza Sant'Oronzo was reserved for the peoples from the province. The Theatre has a diameter of 19 meters.
As mentioned for the Amphitheatre, also the Theatre has been unknown for centuries and it has brought back some statues, which are now preserved in the Archaeological Museum "Sigismondo Castromediano".
Piazza (del) Duomo is a great expression of Baroque. This wonderful square, remodelled, dates back to bishop Gerolamo Guidano. We can enter the square from the propylaeas, created at the end of the 18th century by Emanuele Manieri, once the original wall had been demolished. Willing to harmonize the urban design, this architect, native of Lecce, built two twin buildings next to the propylaeas, showing arcades that today are closed or turned into French-windows.
The steeple rises high on the left side of the square, work of Giuseppe Zimbalo. Central is the Cathedral and moving back we find the episcope. On the right there is the seminary.
In the centre of the square there is the Cathedral Dome, one of the most beautiful cathedral of Italy.
It was built first in 1144, and again in 1230. On proposal of the archbishop of Lecce, Luigi Pappacoda, the architect Giuseppe Zimbalo remodelled the Cathedral Dome between 1659 and 1970. He also erect the steeple, about 70 meters high, divided into five floors with very slender windows. The loggia has an octagonal shape.
Before these restorations the Cathedral area was "Closed", there was indeed an inaccessible entry in the same place where today everybody can enter the square.
The temple has two facades. The main facade is on the left of the episcope and the other is the one we see as we enter the square. The main facade, with a very simple style, shows two structures where we notice in niches two statues of the Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Gennaro, and Saint Ludovico. The pilasters disposition makes clear that the Cathedral has two aisles. The other facade is richer and exuberant. From the centre of the parapet rises the statue of Sant'Oronzo, and on the bottom we find two niches hosting the statues of Saint Giusto and Saint Fortunato.
The Cathedral Dome has a Latin cross plan and 12 altars, excluding the high altar. Most of this altars date back to the 7th century and show paintings of different famous artists, among them Giuseppe da Brindisi, Oronzo Tiso, Gianserio Strafella, G. Domenico Catalano and G. A. Coppola. In the Cathedral there is a crypt dating back to the 12th century, remodelled in the 16th century with baroque features.
The Steeple was built by Giuseppe Zimbalo between 1661 and 1682. It is 70 meters high and on the top there is the iron statue of Sant'Oronzo. This is the 17th highest steeple in Europe, so much that from its top we could see the Adriatic Sea and, when the sky is clear, Albanian mountains too.
The bishop's residence was built for the first time in the 15th century, extended in 1649 by Pappacoda, and remodelled in 1761 by Mgr. Alfonso Sozy-Carafa who assigned to Emanuele Manieri the direction of the works.
The architect, native of Lecce, took into account the scenography of the square, so he removed the outer stair remodelling the facade of the bishop residence with a rational and harmonious design.
The episcope project has a right-angle encompassing the seminary on the right, and the Cathedral on the left. The new arcades of the right side, as well the six of the opposite side (3+3), show Doric columns.
Having a look on the project we notice three niches where three statues are hosted (the Virgin statue is in the centre), while the gable-end houses the central clock (1761) manufactured by Domenico Panico.
The construction of this interesting monument was commissioned by Bishop Michele Pignatelli (1682-1695). Giuseppe Cino erected it between 1694 and 1709.
The facade is bevelled and shows two series of eight refined windows each. In the centre we find the main entrance door, and above it a large central balcony between some arches.
The building has a balustrade, but above it there is another floor. Once inside the Seminary, looking at the walls we notice eight busts made of pietra leccese, representing the Doctors of the Church.
In the middle of the atrium there is a wonderful well made by Cino, finely decorated, that seems to allude to a basket with a handle.
In this building there is also an elegant decorated chapel.
The most representative monument of Baroque in Lecce is the Church of Santa Croce, built between 1549 and 1695, based on the projects of Gabriele Riccardi and architects of the likes of Cesare Penna and Giuseppe Zimbalo.
In addition, also several contributions of carvers and stonecutters of pietra leccese. The facade, with various statues, symbols and decorations, is divided into three sections:
- The first from the flight of steps to balustrade.
- The second, from the balustrade to the ledge.
- The third, finally, is composed by the remaining structures to the gable-end.
The interior of the basilica has a Latin cross plan with three aisles. The nave shows arches on 16 columns with capitals in Corinthian style.
The cupola rises from the transept, then we find a very refined polylobed. Above the nave there is a wood panelled ceiling; above the aisles there are groin vaults that from seven chapels, all of them provided with altars.
To these altars must be added again two altars from the presbytery, and the high altar, dating back to 18th century, with marble intarsia, coming from the church of the Saints Nicolò and Cataldo. The church is also adorned with paintings by Oronzo Tiso, Giovanni Grassi, Giovanni Battista Lama, who was one of the Celestines, who had annexed it to the contiguous convent, completed in 1695. San Francesco of Paola altar (1614), made by Francesco Antonio
Zimbalo, is worth to be seen.
It was built between 1659 and 1695 by Giuseppe Cino and Cesare Penna, on the project by Giuseppe Zimbalo.
The facade shows some fine ornamental patterns next to the windows and the front door, and it constitutes an example of sober Baroque, very rare to see in the seventeenth-century Lecce.
Once it was a Celestine convent, now it is the base of the Province Administration. It is next to Santa Croce's Basilica.
Located in the heart of the town, it is part of Lecce's medieval and Renaissance architecture. Torre del Parco was built in 1419 by the eighteen-tear-old Giovanni Antonio Orsini del Balzo, Prince of Taranto, son of Raimondello and Maria d'Enghie, who at the time boasted the title of Countess of Lecce and queen of the Kingdom of Naples, having married as his second husband, King Ladislaus of Durres.
The tower, over 23 meters high and built on three levels, is encircled by a moat in which bears were bred, the heraldic symbol of the Orsini del Balzo family.
The park around the tower had an extension of over 40 hectares and its area was divided into private and public: the "Parco di Dentro" ("Inside the Park"), citadel including the tower and the "Rooms of the Prince", and the "Parco di Fuori" ("Out of the Park") which expanded up to the city walls and that was a place for fairs, markets and public walks. In 1434, a wing of the complex became the seat of Concistorium Principis, medieval court presided over by Giovanni Antonio Orsini del Balzo. The structure also hosted the Mint, where were coined the so-called "Mali Carlini", gold and silver coins. Between 1458 and 1461, the tower became a prison for some prisoners who notch their
"Lamentations" (still visible) in the splays of the loopholes of the lower floor.
After the death of Giovanni Antonio the complex became the home of several Spanish viceroy who alternated in the domain of Lecce: from Ferrante Loffredo to Ferrante Caracciolo.
The church of St. Irene, the Saint named patroness of Lecce until 1656, represents with its sumptuous beauty, the devotion and the respect that the locals had for their patron saint..
It was built from 1591 on the project by Francesco Grimaldi Teatino. The imposing facade is composed of two overlapping structures with different styles, the bottom is divided into five broad areas, those on the side have empty niches, while the central portal has on the top the statue of the patroness highlighted by a semicircular arch, made by Mauro Manieri in 1717.
The upper part is divided into three parts, the side show of empty niches and the central one shows an airy window. On the entablature there is an inscription dedicated to St. Irene: "Irene Virgini et Martiri". Then we find a triangular pediment with the arms of the city.
The interior has a Latin cross plan with only one nave. It is modulated in a much more sober way than the external facade, presenting, for each side, three deep chapels, communicating with each other, characterized by elliptical vault illuminated with natural light. The first chapel on the right, dedicated to St. dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo, is decorated with solomonic columns.
The second altar of the Archangel Michael was built in 1642 by Cesare Penna and contains a copy of the famous painting of the Saint by Guido Reni. On the side of the canvas, between the Corinthian columns we find statues of the evangelists and delicate musical angels hovering above . Finally, the third chapel houses an eighteenth-century altar, dedicated to the souls in purgatory with a recent canvas by Luigi Scorrano.
The high altar of the Cross underwent renovations in 1753 that changed substantially its original appearance, the altar is characterized by the presence of the painting titled "Il Traspotyo dell'Arca Santa" ("The Holy Ark Transportation"), masterful work of art by Oronzo Tiso.
In the south the transept there is an altar of the Guardian Angel dating back to 1700. Beside one of the most majestic altars of Lecce, the altar dedicated to St. Cajetan from Thiene in 1651 by the Archbishop of Otranto Gaetano Cassa, we find the oil painting depicting the founder of the Theatines, order to which belonged to the person who commissioned the painting, made by Filippo Maria Galletti.
Then we find the altar of St. Andrea Avellino, characteristic for its exuberant decorations in Rococo style. In the north transept, after the altar of the Cross, there is the Altar of St. Oronzo made in middle of 17th century, one of the latest work of Francesco Antonio Zimbalo, uncle of Joseph, who will die in 1630. After this, we notice the altar of St. Irene, with the Holy canvas, painted by Giuseppe Verrio in 1639 and nine busts of saints, each of them containing the relics of the saint represented. At the top stands a statue of St. Irene surmounted by the coat of arms of Lecce.
To the right of S. Irene, we find the altar of Holy Family built in 1672. Going on, there is the altar of Our Lady of Good Counsel, the altar of the Crucifixion and, finally, the altar of St. Stephen, which contains several important paintings, including the stoning of St. Stephen, by Antonio Verri. The walls of the Sacristy of the Church of St. Irene, like the rest of the church is profusely decorated with many priceless paintings, among them the most famous painting of the Madonna della Libera.
Located very close to the Triumphal Arc and to the centre of Viale degli Studenti, the Obelisk of Lecce was built in 1822 by the sculptor Vito Carluccio in honor of Ferdinand I of Bourbon, on the project by Luigi Coppola.
Its four sides are decorated with some bas- reliefs, including the dolphin biting the Crescent, that is the Turkish emblem, which was on the coat of arms of the ancient cities of Terra d'Otranto.
There is a curious story concerning the Obelisk: the Bourbon propaganda painted the Obelisk in black, in a manner reminiscent of marble obelisk, but when the first fell down, it wiped out any trace of black.
The Triumphal Arch, also known as Porta Napoli (Napoli Gate), is in the homonymous square and was erected in 1548 in honor of Emperor Charles V, who built many fortifications in defense of Lecce.
The monument is 20 meters high and was built where there was once the old Porta San Giusto, below which, according to tradition, there were the remains of the saint.
Of Corinthian order, with double columns, with the attic base and the baroque capital, the Triumphal Arch shows the insignia of empire with the trophies and panoplies.
The central frieze appears, in Latin, the dedicatory inscription, which translates as:
"To Emperor Cesar Charles V, augustus winner in India, in Gaul and in Africa;
defeater of Christian rebels, terror and extermination of the Turks, the propagator of the Christian religion in the world with works and with the advices;
Ferrante Loffredo, governor of this province, who was able to keep away the Turks and the enemies of the empire from the beaches of Salento and Japigia;
the university and the people of Lecce dedicated this Arch to his greatness and majesty, on the year 1548."
Porta San Biagio (San Biagio Gate) was probably built on an existing tower in the 18th century too.
The style is that of Baroque, and also on the top of this gate "stands" Saint Biagio. On the two sides we find two coat of arms.
Just south of the Triumphal Arch (Porta Napoli), is the so called Porta Rudiae, whose name comes from the ancient city of Messapian origin, today in the outskirts of Lecce. Probably, as in the case of the Triumphal Arch, there should have been a medieval gate, older than that we can admire today.
The gate collapsed during the 17th century and was rebuilt in the 18th century at the behest of a patrician from Lecce, whose name is today unknown. The gate shows a clearly baroque style, made by Giuseppe Cino, and it was built since there wasn't a real defensive function at the time.
The facade is dominated by a statue of Saint Oronzo, patron of Lecce, and on the side by statues of Saint Irene (ancient city's patron saint) and Saint Domenico.
Four bust are carved on the columns of the gate: Euippa, Malennio, Dauno and Idomeneus, Minos'grandson and Zeus's great-grandson, the legendary Cretan founder of the town.