Lecce Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Italy > Lecce > History

The city of Lecce is on an upland plain fifty metres above sea level. It has around 100.000 inhabitants and the centre has a trapeze like shape. The old, urban centre, called "Lecce vecchia" or 'Old Lecce' used to be divided into four quarters; S.Giusto, S.Martino, S.Biagio and Rusce, by gates with the same names. Since 1606, these districts were also four parishes. The area was encircled by a city wall, like a fortress. The city is characterised by splendid and magnificent, baroque architecture, in typical, Lecce stone that is white and malleable. The historic centre is surrounded by a wall, which includes Porta S.Biagio in the west and Porta Napoli in the north west. The modern ringroad is beyond these ancient walls, which links the old city to the new. This part has a totally different architectural style with offices, shops and houses.

In the city centre is Piazza S.Oronzo, in an area where there are many historic streets. These are narrow, winding streets, full of charm and the square has been the heart of local activity for centuries. The square has not changed much; even in nineteenth century prints, it appears very similar to how it is today, with the same layout of many monuments. The most important buildings in the city were here, such as the Palazzo dell'Udienza, from the eighteenth century, which was near a group of houses, between Via Visconti, Via degli Orefici and Vico Morenigo, which had the customs office. There was also the Sedile, rebuilt in 1592, whose loggia and arches still remain, as well as some of the portico, called the Capande. There are also important churches such as S.Maria della Grazia and the Cappella di S.Marco dei Veneziani, both of which date from the sixteenth century, as well as the statue of the patron saint, S.Oronzo.

Around the square were nine streets; Via degli Acaya, Via Scarambone, Via Cepolla, Via S.Marco, Via dei Templari, Via Mocenigo, Via Visconti, Via Bagliva and Via del Mercato, now called Via Vito Fazzi, that led to Piazza delle Erbe, the site of the covered market.

The Venetian style area was very picturesque, with a castle near the square, including Via Mocenigo and Via Visconti, opening onto the side of Palazzo dell'Udienza. The roads were narrow and fascinating, surrounded by houses that were very close together, with old, craftsmen's workshops that no longer exist. There are still distinctive kerbstones on the sides of the roads. There was a gallery that led to the Cappella di S.Salvatore, linking Via dei Templari with Via Matteotti. These roads were the continuation of ground floor houses and workshops where daily life went on, with its typical noises and smells, also hosting merchants from various parts of the world, numerous priests and noblemen who passed by. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this district started to be destroyed, and it was totally changed. The first thing to be transformed was the Palazzo della R.Udienza, which was the court and the prison and this continued through the Portico delle Capande, to Via S.Marco. In 1900 the building of the Banca d'Italia was built in Via Scarambone, a none too elegant construction, that did nothing to enhance the surrounding architecture. A number of houses were destroyed so that it could be built, and called "isola del Governatore". The remains of the Roman ampitheatre were discovered at this time as well as ancient tombs. Unfortunately, in the fascist period, all the streets were changed and certain, unattractive buildings were put up including the Inps, Banco di Roma, Ina, Banca Commerciale Italiana and Banca del Lavoro buildings. Outside the square area, were the Quattro Spezierie, formed by linking four streets; Via Imperatore Augusto, Via dei Tribunali, Via Vittorio Emanuele II and Via S.Marco: this was the meeting place of the bourgeoisie. As for the more modern areas, the Mazzini district is now the modern centre, and is full of shops and new buildings as well as many important banks. In the centre is Piazza Mazzini, which has a square shape and a large, modern style fountain. It is surrounded by trees and there is always a very lively atmosphere here at all times of the day and night. Via Trinchese, has all kinds of shops, from luxurious boutiques to more reasonably priced stores as well as important cinemas and theatres.

The S.Lucia district takes its name from the S.Lucia di fuori Chapel, and has a square shape. It is delimited on the west by Via degli Orti and by Viale d'Italia in the east, by the S.Pasquale road in the south and the S.Lucia road in the north that links Piazza delle Erbe with the Convent of S.Maria del Tempio. The three main roads in the area are Via degli Orti, Viale d'Italia and Via Cavour. There is a picture of this area dating from 1822, which shows the whole city surrounded by walls apart from this district. It was considered an unsightly area, with a long string of mostly one floor houses, set out on long, narrow roads. However, opinions changed even at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the houses became taller and the uniform look of the area started to change as important buildings were constructed. There are not only modest houses in this district, but also notable architecture, such as the eclectic Villa Indraccolo, the Moorish Villa Himera, the Neo-Renaissance style Palazzo Coppola, and various chapels inside the cemetery. The Palazzo del Senatrore Tamborino is one of the best examples of art nouveau architecture in the city, and the most interesting building in this area.

Il Parco di fuori - This area was chosen at the beginning of the fifteenth century by Maria d'Enghen and G.A.Orsini as a place of rest and meditation. In 1419, they built the new residence in the park and the site was added to throughout the century with other buildings, such as the Chapel of S.Giacomo, the Church del Tempio and the Church of S.Lazzaro. The area was divided into two; the "Parco di dentro" (inside of the park), which included the
Torre del Parco and the princes rooms, and the "Parco di fuori" (the outside of the park), from the tower to the urban walls. This was a perfect place for fairs, walks and markets. It was enlarged in the sixteenth century, and between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was closed for walks under French domination, and at the beginning of the twentieth century, when urbanisation was in full flow, the Viale del Parco was seen as the only route that had to be preserved at all costs. There are now various, interesting average cost and expensive houses here.

Il Tridente di Porta S.Biagio - Porta S.Biagio is the point that links three road networks, where Viale del Parco, the road to Lizzanello and the road to Maglie-S.Maria di Leuca converge. It has always been a focal point of the city, and it was also a favourite place with the fascists. A monument to the fallen was built here in 1928. The little garden of Porta S.Biagio, together with the streets, determines a continuity between public and private green areas in this district. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Ospedale Vito Fazzi became the main sight in this area.

S.Lazzaro - Near the Tridente di Porta S.Biagio, by Torre del Parco, at the end of the nineteenth century, there was another small, expansion along the S.Lazzaro road, creating this area. The church was already built in the fifteenth century, and outside it is the column bearing a statue of the saint, giving the nickname of "SannĂ " to the area. There is also the hospital and two other religious buildings opposite; on one side the Church of S.Lucia, where the fair was traditionally held, and on the other the Church of S.Maria del Tempio. This had a convent annex, built by the 'Riformanti' in the sixteenth century and then followed by the 'osservanti' (now the building has been demolished). Urbanisation concentrated in the area surrounding the church in its initial phases, the church along Via Caracciolo and Via Pisanelli. The houses are in a common style and are not particularly interesting.

The Castello Area - From 1865, the area surrounding the castle became the main area of urban expansion. It started with Borgo S.Lucia, and then the area between the Caserma Tempio and the Villa Comunale was urbanised. In the 1930's, the old city centre was moved to the new city; the Palazzo delle poste and the Castello would become the new centre of this city. There is a daily market in the Piazza delle poste.

Fulgenzio e il Borgo Adriano - The central point of this area is the Villa di Fulgenzio, which is a complex that includes large gardens. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the old Convento dei Celestini in Palazzo dell'Intendenza was transformed and a series of changes and renovations were carried out, especially in the Villa Comunale, which became an integral part of the urban area. It is now a pleasant area to walk around in, as it is very airy and full of greenery.

The Railway Station was opened in 1866, in the south west area of the city, near the walls and the Viali, that have become a scenic point for travellers. A new gate has opened at the end of the access road, which has made the area even more scenic. The Viale della Stazione has been enlarged many times. Important roads here include the Viale della Stazione and the Viale Gallipoli which is the place to find Museo Castromediano, the Pinacoteca and the Biblioteca Provinciale (provincial library). On Viale Gallipoli and Viale Lo Re are little villas in a narrow, long area between the walls and the Viali. This used to be one of the most enchanting areas as there were many villas here with gardens.

There are still two more areas here of note one of which is Borgo Pizziniaco, which is outside the walls and has a strip built for the 'noisy arts'. Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a range of villas were built here including Villa Aurelia, Villino Reale and Villino de Giorgi. Borgo Idria is the other area, which is opened by the large, nucleus of the prison, on the south west of the city, outside Porta Rudiae. The prison is in the complex of Padri della missione. The area takes its name from the nearby Church of S.Maria dell'Idria, whose convent was one of the most beautiful in the city in the eighteenth century. The area is characterised by a homogenous aspect, and is delimited on one side by Via di Novoli, and on the other by Porta Napoli. The main road is Campi road, which is also called Via D'Aurio. This is the near the Triumphal Arch of Carlo V from 1548, and the Obelisk which was built in honour of Ferdinando I. Near to here is the road of camposanto, which ends with the belltower of the Church of S.Irene. Porta Napoli is the place to find the Centre of the University of Lecce and this area is very popular with young people and has many bookshops and student shops.