Cultural Itineraries

Salento's history in urban centres

The architectural landscape is reminiscent of Greek cities in the absolute predominance of white 'a calce' houses, without roofs (with attics), especially in the countryside and on the coast, but the historic centres are characterised by Lecce Baroque, a Spanish legacy of Plateresco, which, compared to the Baroque in the rest of Italy, strips away the pictorial overabundance of the interiors and transforms the external facades of churches and palaces into real sculpted tapestries. The local 'pietra leccese', soft and malleable with its warm pinkish-yellow colour, played a major role in this.


A city and provincial capital of Apulia, Lecce is located on the flattest part of the Salento peninsula, about 12 km from the Adriatic Sea and 27 km from the Ionian Sea. Founded by the Messapi, it became a Roman military station (Lupiae) in the mid-3rd century BC, and was later converted into a municipality. The historical centre has a typical medieval layout, crossed by a few streets that lead to the main monuments of the 'Lecce Baroque'; these are buildings with a prevalently classical structure but whose surfaces have been rendered admirably plastic by the use of 'pietra leccese'. The most important works are the Basilica di Santa Croce (1548-1646) and the nearby Palazzo del Governo, dating from the 17th century; the scenic square is overlooked by the Duomo (1659-1670) and the Seminario (1694-1709), with its famous well. In the historic centre there are also the remains of a theatre and a Roman amphitheatre, dating back to the 2nd century; the 16th-century Sedile or Palazzo del Seggio; the Spanish Castle and the Castromediano Provincial Museum, which houses a remarkable archaeological section with material from the nearby Rudiae excavations.


A bridge to the East and the tip of Italy, Otranto has an almost magical air about it. It gives its name to the canal that separates Italy from Albania and connects the Adriatic Sea with the Ionian Sea. For five centuries it was an important Byzantine centre, but it suffered a terrible siege in 1480 by the Turks, who massacred 800 citizens (the famous 'Idruntine martyrs'). The village, still enclosed by the Aragonese walls, is a maze of narrow streets. The Romanesque cathedral is paved with one of the few, almost intact, mosaics in Puglia. The nearby Diocesan Museum illustrates the historical and artistic heritage of the Salento; the small Basilica di San Pietro, the town's first cathedral, was built in the 9th-10th centuries with a Greek-cross plan. The Aragonese Castle was rebuilt after 1481.


The exact point where the waters of the Adriatic and the Ionian mix and where the boundary between East and West, past and present, history and legend becomes imperceptible; here one really has the impression of being 'at the edge of the earth', at the extreme edge of known reality. The Sanctuary of Santa Maria di Leuca, although rebuilt and remodelled several times, is one of the attractions of the area.