Our Puglia Adventure - Part II Going for Baroque in Lecce
I’ve always relied and trusted my first impressions about people and places. And, with a degree of modesty, I am usually right despite operating with a small body of work. So, with that caveat, I come clean on Lecce. We only walked down two streets (maybe 3), Via Giuseppe Libertini & Via Umberto. Guess what? I LOVED Lecce and all of its Baroque architecture. Now, I know there’s much, much more to see in Lecce but what we saw in the six hours we were there made me think that we would return.
Lecce is the centerpiece of Puglia and its most populous city by far. Despite having only circa 95,000 citizens, Lecce feels edgy, cool, historic, alive and fluid. It also seemed palpably friendly with a balance of seniors and young people. It’s also a bike/scooter centric place due in part to
a flattish topography which also makes it an easy city to walk. Lecce’s one shortcoming is that it is landlocked though it’s a small complaint as the Adriatic Sea is only 8 miles away.
Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say about the food here because we noshed at a very average spot (shame on me for not doing the advance work). Pero (“however” in Italian....roll your ‘r’), I am told that Lecce is the culinary capital of Puglia as well. When (not if) we go back I have already decided that we will dine in a little trattoria called Nonna Tetti. The reviews are solid and the photos ooze authenticity. As an aside, I will tell you that our day in Lecce was made when we grabbed an outdoor table at the South East Cafe (of all names though Puglia is in the SE!) and the manager had a small turntable blasting out Dark Side of the Moon, Hendrix’ Electric Ladyland, and Cream’s Disreali Gears while we sipped on our Aperol Spritzes and Negronis. Can you beat that?
We did see a couple of things that I would like to further explore: a 2 AD Roman Amphitheatre and the Basilica di Santa Croce. The Basilica is currently undergoing a facade facelift but the nave is breathtaking in both its baroque beauty and its celebrated lunacy. The carvings - and there are a lot of them - have this acid trip gone wrong look about them as they adorn columns around the church and its seventeen altars. The ceiling, on the other hand, is a lovely, rich, wooden caisson ceiling with a Gianserio Strafella (a Michelangelo apprentice) painting from 1553 hung smack in the middle. The entire place is astonishing and head-scratching worthy. The Roman Amphitheatre, in the Piazza Sant’ Oronzo, dates from the 2nd century. Currently, it can seat 14,000 people for plays and concerts but when first built, it could accommodate 25,000 people. The whole amphitheatre was buried until construction workers unearthed the structure in 1901. Imagine, Rome’s Colosseum with the top two levels of arches lopped off and then submerged below ground level.
Lecce, you are a beautiful, fascinating and quirky city. While our first visit may have been short, I feel certain that next time, we will go for Baroque in Lecce.