History of Lecce

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The first people to settle in the city were the Messapi, of Illyric origin. Many archeological remains have been found from these people, which are visible today, such as tombs, wall remains and vases decorated in a typical style. These are now kept in the Museo Provinciale Castromediano. Lecce was probably not a proper city in those times, but only a village that was dependent on nearby, important Rudiae, which is also famous for being the birthplace of the latin poet Quinto Ennio. Towards 3 B.C. Lupiae, the ancient name of the city of Lecce, was certainly a 'statio militium romana' (used by the roman army) and it then became a 'municipium' and finally a 'colonia'. During Hadrian's Empire (117-138) the ampitheatre and the theatre were built as well as an important link with port of Adriano (now S.Cataldo). Marco Aurelio planned the constitution who, according to legend, was a descendant of the Salentine king, Malennio, the mythical founder of Lupiae. Marco Aurelio made a lot of developments, both from a commercial and cultural point of view. However, when Nero was the ruler, he evangelised the place, with the work of Publio Oronzio, who was the protobishop and the proto-martyr of the city. The city was then conquered by Totila, and was destroyed many times, in particular in 542 and in 549, during the greek-gothic war. The urban centre was then concentrated in the area around the amphitheatre area, around which many buildings were constructed.

After being fought over for centuries by the Byzantines, Lombards and Arabs, the city remained under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire for about five centuries. The Byzantines gave culture and greek traditions to the city, making it an area known for its cultural and religious life. After a long period of decadence, the arrival of the Normans brought splendour back to the city. Roberto il Guiscardo started the Earldom of Lecce. Tancredi, son of Ruggero di Puglia and grandson of Ruggero II (1105-1154) became the Count of Lecce and of the two Sicilies and he built the important Church of SS.Nicolò and Cataldo. The city became the Earldom in which the Altavilla formed two Benedictine communities who, with the Cathedral built by Bishop Formoso, were the most important centres of Norman, religious politics, in the Byzantine lands of the South of Italy.

Lecce became the most important centre of Terra d'Otranto and this pre-eminence was recognised by Ferdinando d'Aragona, who maintained the magistrature of appeal in the city, in 1463. Fifteenth century Lecce, was the home of many important characters in Italian culture such as Antonio de Ferraris Galateo and Roberto Caracciolo. This was a time of economic development and of trade with Venetian, Tuscan, Lombard, Genoan, Jewish, Greek, Albanian and Dalmatian merchants. The Convent of the Domenicans, the Monasteries of the Clarisse and theNova and the Stanziamento degli Olivetani were all built at this time, giving life to a current that would expand into many religious orders in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.

Lecce reached its golden age with Charles V, who built the famous Castello, the walls of the city, and the triumphal arch that is now called Porta Napoli, because it used to lead to the capital of the kingdom. At that time, Lecce was second in importance to Naples in the region. This was the time of the famous, Lecce, baroque, in which many beautiful churches were built, including Santa Croce and S.Irene, and buildings such as Palazzo del Seggio. At that time there were four districts in the city; Rusce, S.Biagio, S.Martino and S.Giusto, which corresponded to the gates and parishes with the same names. There were great palaces, belonging to aristocrats and merchants as well as houses and churches built by the most popular orders of Catholic reform; the Jesuits and the Teatini. People such as Ferrante Loffredo, the provincial president, Scipione Ammirato, who founded the Academy of the Transformed, Gabriele Ricciardi, architect and sculptor who designed the S.Croce church, gave life to the city.

In the seventeenth century, civilization took hold of the city, by means of literature, taste, and culture. The Column of S.Oronzo was built at this time, as a thank you for the end of the plague, and Zimbalo created a new, architectural language that was ornamental, magnificent and sparkling. From 1647-48 there was an anti-Spanish movement that was repressed in a very violent way. At this time buildings were constructed such as the Duomo, the Church of S.Angelo, the Church of S.Chiara and the Palazzo del Governo.

From 1711-1719, Lecce was known as a 'cittĂ -chiesa' (church-city) and became home to a famous, architecture school which specialised in set design. The two Manieri, father and son, were at the head of this trend, and with eclectic and original taste, gave the city the characteristic look that is still striking today. At the same time, the bishop Sozi-Carafa, an art lover, entrusted many plans to the painter, Oronzo Tiso. The city was dominated by the Austrians for a time, after which, in 1734, there was a revolt against the Bourbons, and it was feared that the Spanish would take over again. However, the nobles violently appropriated power. In 1799, the city belonged to the Neapolitan Republic for just one day, and then it returned into the hands of Ferdinando IV, who had welcomed, for two years first Gioacchino Murat and then Giuseppe Bonaparte, who compromised Lecce on their way to the central city of the kingdom. With the restoration of Bourbon rule, the city was visited by Ferdinando II, who, in the name of the Great Criminal Court of Terra d'Otranto severely condemned the Salentine patriots for their deeds of 48. The foundling hospice was named after him, and then renamed after Garibaldi in 1860. Lecce was part of the enlightenment culture, and many law and mathematic schools were set up here. There was also lively activity from the schools, theatre and press, as well as eminent, legal tradition. There was also decorative tradition, that took the form of papier mache art. The city was by now famous for its art, and called 'the Athens of Puglia', 'Baroque Florence' and 'Rococco paradise'.

In 1821, Lecce took part in the Carbonari movement and began to resist against the Austrians. It formed a provisional government in 1848 and the liberal party was founded. The city then signed the memorandum of the Confederate Provinces and participated in the southern, liberal movement. 1860 was the year that of Italian Unification, and after unity Lecce flourished between 1895 and 1915, and began to expand beyond the walls. In 1927, the Province of Lecce was separated from Taranto and Brindisi. Since then it has continued to develop in every way, with independence and speed.