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Lecce, Italy: The Florence of the South

Above is a video / slideshow with a collection of images from our visit to the beautiful town of Lecce, in southern Italy.

More and more as we travel, we try to stay in areas that are slightly off the beaten path. We have found that they tend to be far less touristed and we therefore get a more authentic sense of the culture and people of the place we are visiting.

So, as we planned our three-month trip to Italy, we decided to stay in Puglia, which is the less touristed southern area of Italy known as the “heel of the boot”. After quite a bit of research we decided on Lecce as our home base for the month of October.

Lecce is a city of nearly ninety-five thousand people and is the capital of the province of Lecce. Its defining characteristic is the remarkable Baroque architecture found everywhere in the historic city center. This style flourished during the 17th century while the city was under Spanish rule and is so distinctive that it is referred to as “Leccese” Baroque. This stunning Baroque architecture has earned Lecce the nickname, “The Florence of the South”, and because the local limestone is so relatively easy to carve, the sculptors went wild with it. You’ll find twisted columns with all kinds of floral reliefs, interesting human figures, mythological animals, coats of arms, elaborate friezes, and more. It is simply amazing to see so much of it in one place.

Baroque architecture was a response by the catholic church to the austerity and simplicity of the reformation. While the churches of the reformation shunned imagery, the catholic church ran with it. The Baroque style is intricate, dramatic, flamboyant, and quite elaborate – full of religious themes and direct emotional involvement that hopefully would inspire piety and faith and be relatable to the ordinary people. Lecce is simply full of it!

Today, Lecce’s main export is its coveted limestone that was used to build the city. It is especially soft and malleable, with the ability to harden over time, making it a great stone for sculpture and architecture. Over time, the stone turns a beautiful pale-yellow color that makes it appear as though the sun is always shining in this gorgeous city.

Our video / slideshow at the top of the page gives you a glimpse into what it’s like to walk the streets of the historic city center of Lecce and to be surrounded by such beauty. It is stunning . . . Enjoy.

We enjoyed our time in Lecce. Every day as we walk through town, the beauty of this city does not wear thin. There are few places that I have been that are as consistently beautiful as Lecce, and walking the streets of her old town is delightful. You will most likely get lost as you stroll these lovely streets, but no worries, you are not lost at all . . . you are simply enjoying the art of discovery. At every twist and turn there is beauty. I think it’s fair to describe the historic city center of Lecce as an open-air museum.

As well as being beautiful, Lecce is a good base from which to visit other towns throughout the Puglia region. Excellent day trips from Lecce include Bari, Monopoli, Ostuni, Otranto, Matera, Alberobello, Gallapoli, and Polignano a Mare - all within a one-to-two-hour train or bus ride from Lecce, and all places that are well worth visiting. I’ll be covering many of these in a future blog.

Even as it is a relief to be away from the crowds that fill the streets of Rome, Venice, and Florence, we found ourselves longing a bit for the “buzz” that accompanies those crowds. It is easy and comfortable to stroll through the uncrowded streets of Lecce, and the beauty that this city holds cannot be overstated . . . but, it often felt a little too quiet and staid for us. It almost felt empty. We saw some tourists but rarely the buzz of local authentic daily activity. And granted, we were here in October, but the town of Lecce sort of felt like a museum. It is polished and well cared for, elegant and grand in nature . . . and yet Carla I never quite felt at home here. It’s not to say that we didn’t love seeing Lecce . . . but we missed interacting with the locals and getting a sense of local life here.

With that said, would we recommend Lecce? It’s worth it for the architecture and some more southernly day trips, but we’d recommend staying here just a few days and then moving on.

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Oct 19, 2023


Thanks for your narrative on Lecce. My mother-in-law’s family is from Bari so we’ll be down in that neck-of-the- woods in the future. Meanwhile, we are following along with your travels down there with great interest!

Oct 19, 2023
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Hi there! We just returned from Bari after a three day visit. We really enjoyed the city and it was very convenient for visiting two of our favorite day trips so far - Alberobello and Matera . . . both fascinating and very unique towns. How wonderful to have family in this neck-of-the-woods! Enjoy.

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