Agriturismo Masseria Selvaggi come Contattarci

Lecce, 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.

Lecce's 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.

The 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.

The 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.

A 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.

The 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.

Beside 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 beautiful sweep.

Built 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 S. Benedetto.

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