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Historic center of Lecce

The heart of Lecce is undoubtedly the part of the city capable of enclosing, simply by walking, the major architectural beauties of the city in a mixture of styles and eras. The Historic Center is a “must” that has to be admired if you are in Lecce even for just one day.

The itinerary we suggest to visit it starts from the Obelisk and Porta Napoli, one of the historic gates of the city (the others are Porta Rudiae and Porta San Biagio) which offers you a magical entrance to discover the wonders of the old city, a sort of passage that, almost like a “stargate” will be able to take you back in time. Leave the car in one of the streets to the right of the Obelisk, in order to avoid the paid parking lots in the center. At this point, to get in front of the door, you will pass next to the Obelisk. It is a monument that acts as a link between the new city – frontally and to its right – and the older part to its left. It was erected by order of the Bourbons in 1822 by Vito Carluccio, has four facades that tell a story from the base going upwards: below it is clearly evident a dolphin biting a crescent, that is the Bourbon victory against the Turks.

Therefore, proceed towards Porta Napoli through a modern and pleasant square and in a few seconds, you will find the door in front of your eyes: the entrance was built in the sixteenth century by Charles V, you can immediately admire its grandeur. The front supports the triumphal arch with Corinthian columns that support a triangular pediment with the effigy of the Habsburg empire.

Crossing Porta Napoli you will enter the real old city, closed to traffic. However, proceed by turning right, since the road has a more interesting aspect than proceeding from the front. You will therefore walk along the cobbled Via Palmieri, admiring the Paiesiello Theater from the outside and continuing straight ahead to the entrance to Piazza Duomo. Here, enclosed in a large courtyard, you will find one of the most beautiful squares in the city. Enjoying an ice cream sitting on one of the many steps that form the entrance to the Duomo is a common habit among the locals and you will particularly appreciate the play of light on the Duomo itself, on the bell tower and on the whole area after sunset: the atmosphere you will find knows of ancient, magical and romantic.

Exit from Piazza Duomo and choose: turning left along Via Libertini you will reach the other city gate (Porta Rudiae), exiting again from the Center, while on the right along Via Vittorio Emanuele II you will enter even further into Baroque Lecce. On the left you will find the newly renovated Church of Sant’Irene, several lounge bars and takeaways, souvenir shops and bookstores, up to the wonderful Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the essence of the city.

You will recognize it immediately because of the large airy open space that will open up before your eyes, between Baroque palaces and buildings with arches. On the right you will continue your walk in the center between churches and squares (we mention Piazzetta Santa Chiara and the Church of San Matteo); on the left you will flank beautiful Baroque palaces, you will reach a small square where you will admire an ancient Roman oil mill in display cases on the ground, and you will continue to the exceptional Basilica of Santa Croce with the Palazzo dei Celestini, a Baroque triumph built in the sixteenth century; instead continuing straight on to Piazza Sant’Oronzo you will discover the city symbol in the center of the square, the She-wolf, and on the right the “photograph” par excellence of the city: the Seat with its large glass door, the Column that holds the Bishop Sant ‘ Oronzo – patron saint of the city – and the Roman Amphitheater, built in the first century AD, then buried and forgotten by everyone before being rediscovered only in the early twentieth century. To date, only a quarter of the large amphitheater has been made visible, the rest is still buried, under other buildings and churches of historical significance. During the Christmas period, a large and suggestive nativity scene is set up inside the Amphitheater. In other periods of the year, it is used occasionally for special events or theatrical performances. Overall, you will find in the historic center of Lecce many beauties enclosed in a few square kilometers, easily visited in a single day, perhaps with a couple of small breaks to spoil an ice cream or a pasticciotto, in an atmosphere that – you will see – will be carefree and magical both day and night and that will enter your heart to never forget it again.