il barocco Leccese
Lecce is the main town of the area
of Salento. The unparalleled beauty of her churches and the
nobility and elegance of her residences amaze and fascinate
all who visit her, and she is quite rightly acclaimed as one
of the capitals of the Baroque, a style which here has aquired
an unrivalled originality and exuberance due to the skill
with which local architects and stonemasons worked the soft,
malleable, pink-tinged local stone.
The town dates back to the times of the Messapii and kept
its independence in the face of expansion on the part of Taranto.
It was eventually conquered by the Romans in the III century
B.C., and, on being moved 3 km. to the north-east, was first
given the name Lupiae, and later that of Licea or Litium.
During the time of Hadrian (II century A.D.) a theatre was
built, near the church of S. Chiara, together with an Amphitheatre
whose imposing remains still stand in the town's main square,
Piazza S. Oronzo.
dominion over the territory of Otranto declined in the Byzantine
age, when the city of Otranto was chosen as the main port
for Byzantine Italy. It came back to life and became an important
trading centre in Norman times, was property of the crown
under the Swabians, and, under the Angevins, was held in fee
first by the Brienne family, and later by the d'Enghien. Charles
V built new walls to defend the city from the attacks of Turkish
pirates, who persistently threatened Salento. The cultural
prestige of the town was established in this period, and it
was during the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries that the so-called
"Lecce Baroque" developed, embellishing the town
centre with monuments of great artistic worth.
visitor can look forward to one surprise after another; the
elaborate scenography of Piazza del Duomo, the overpowering
richness of the splendid façade of S. Croce, the harmony
between different styles in the church of SS. Niccolò
and Cataldo, and the castle of Charles V. The heart of Lecce
is its main square, Piazza S. Oronzo, which, as previously
mentioned, is partly occupied by the Roman amphiteatre, more
than half of which was brought to light in the late 1930's.
In the centre of the square stands the Column of S. Oronzo,
one of the two columns which, in Brindisi, used to mark the
end of the Appian Way. It was moved here, on the plans of
Giuseppe Zimbalo, to support a statue of the Saint.
Palazzo del Seggio, built in 1592, lies close to the amphiteatre.
The classical façade of the lovely little church of
S. Maria delle Grazie (1590) also overlooks the square.
short way along Corso Vittorio Emanuele one can see the church
of S. Irene, or Deli Teatini (1591-1639), with its beautiful
façade and, above the portal, an XVIII
century statue of its Saint by Mauro Manieri. A little further
on, the so-called propylaea (large porticos) lead into the
Piazza del Duomo, where the first overall impression is one
of harmony and grace. The five-storey bell-tower (1661-82)
designed by Giuseppe Zimbalo dominates the square.
same architect designed the Cathedral, rebuilt on the site
of an earlier XII century church. The main façade is
austere in its simplicity, while, to obtain appropriate scenic
effects, Zimbalo gave free rein to his inventiveness in the
Baroque decoration of the side façades. A basically
simple portal is embellished to the point that it becomes
an elegant study in the art of decoration, terminating in
the climatic triumphal arch which frames a statue of the Patron
Saint. In the interior, fine painted panels are set into the
gilded wooden roof, while the altars, partly designed by Zimbalo,
are Baroque. There are also several paintings by Oronzo Tisi.
the Cathedral, stands the Bishop's Palace (1420-28), with
its outstanding first-floor loggia. It was rebuilt in 1632.
The Palazzo del Seminario, designed by Giuseppe Cino and built
between 1694 and 1709, has a beautiful façade containing
two levels of windows and a fine portal surmounted by a loggia
with three arches. In the courtyard of the Seminary stands
a beautiful well, also designed by Cino.
The most perfect example of Lecce Baroque is without doubt
the splendid church of S. Croce, joined to the Palazzo dei
Celestini (today the Palazzo del Governo) to form one breathtakingly
to plans by Gabriele Riccardi, its construction was begun
in 1549 and continued by Francesco Antonio Zimbalo, Cesare
Penna and Giuseppe Zimbalo, nicknamed "lo Zingarello
" (the Gipsy). The façade is divided into two
levels and surmounted by a large gable. The lower level is
sectioned by six columns set against the wall, and is decorated
by a cornice, itself decorated by arches and set off by a
large frieze of classical inspiration. The three portals are
the work of Antonio Zimbalo: the central one frames a porch
made up of a pair of coupled columns supporting a frieze,
while those at the sides contain two elegant rose windows.
A large balcony divides the lower from the higher levels.
It rests on thirteen caryatids representing grotesque human
figures and allegorical animal shapes, taken from fantasy.
Above these lies a carved balustrade, decorated by thirteen
cherubs, holding symbols in their hands.
The upper tier of the church is given definition by four richly
decorated columns, and at its centre lies a magnificent rose
window set in an elaborate cornice. The sides are ornamented
by niches, which frame statues of S. Pietro Celestino and