History of Lecce
The city of Lecce, situated at about 50 meters above sea level , today has a population of about 100,000 inhabitants . The town origins date back to the Roman period, indeed its historic center represents a kind of civic continuity of life since the II century B.C. .However Legends claimed that the first settlers were the Messapians coming from Greece; for this reason the planimetry of the town is similar to other Messapian centers of the Salento area as Oria , Manduria , Rudiae , Nardo , Muro Leccese , Vast , Ugento and Vereto.
Legends and curiosities
CHURCH OF ST. MATTHEW
A contrast of lines between the two levels of the front, which is convex at the entrance and concave in the upper part, characterises this site. We may define it an unusual church if compared to the others that are defined baroque for their external decoration. In this case, on the contrary, the architect Larducci was probably influenced by the renowed Borromini style displayed in the famous church”San Carlo alle quattro fontane” in Rome.
The adopted materials are obviously different and the decorative elaborationsare made easier by the soft local stone; the diamond points take a round shape to become scales ; columns change into parastades and, on the upper part,a window that echoes the “serliana” with on its sides flowered vases. Its interior faithful to the exterior is elliptic containing 12 very rich altars where the staues of the apostoles are displayed(Placido Buffelli 1692); noteworthy the wooden ceiling and the organ coming from the original Holy Cross church.
THEATRE IN LECCE
Untill the XVII century most of the theatrical shows were held in private houses or in creaky wooden theaters built for the specific event.
Lecce has always had an important passion for theater and therefore locals welcomed the building of a theater inside the Charles V castle.
However in 1781 some women begged the King to do not call anymore the Singer Maria Cecilia Colletti because she had had too many love affairs with local men during her stay in Lecce for the shows.
For that reason and for moral decency, the engeneer Oronzo Bernardini built the Paisiello theater in 1870
CHURCH OF THE CARMINE
The building of the Carmine church arised a controversy because of the Domenican confraternity envy.Legend claimed Domenicans helped by some citizens tried to demolish the church at night.
At the civic no.5 in Galateo street there was the famous “Baby Hatch”or “Foundling Wheel” is a place where mothers brought babies( usually newborn) and leave them anonimously to be cared for.
At the civic no.2 in Galateo street there is a house that was considered “Bewitched” because it is said that every night a priest head less body appeared to warn people to not get in the house
At the civic no.2 in Paladini street there is a “bewitched” house, the Zizzari home; there a young piano player lady killed herself after a romantic seatback and , it is said that every year at the anniversary of the death of the lady you can hear her piano playing.
In Perroni street there is the namesake palace that is clearly recognizable because above its entrance portal there is a carved out angel in leccese stone that welcomes visitors. The angel grabs a ring shaped bread as remainder of the St. Francis visit; indeed it is said that the saint knocked at the door of the house and a boy greeted him offering a bread.
STREET FEDERICO D’ARAGONA
Along Federico d’Aragona street close to the Theutra alley on the corner carved out from the stone there is the face of a lady; it is the simbol of a star crossed lovers pulled apart by their families with an unhappy ending.
The geranium is a flower you can usually see on the iron wrought balconies of the historic center in Lecce . During the XVIII century this flower was also “the flower of the cuckolds “, since it needs to be frequently watered; so women had more time to spend on ther balconies waiting for their lovers to stop by their houses to arrange the date.
The area where today there is the Greek church is also famous because most of the houses of the neighborhood were owned by Mara, a well- known transexual who died a decay ago. Mara was famous not only because of his outing but also because he rented his apartments only to immigrants, and got filthy rich( more than one billion lire).When he died he gave all his savings to the Benedectine church and to a child care fondation.
BASILICA OF SANTA CROCE
The church and the adjacent convent of the Celestine Convent represent, in their harmonious unity, the most complete example of the Leccese Baroque. Built to replace the ancient church within the castle, the Basilica was rebuilt several times between 1549 and the mid-17th century, the work of three generations of architects and master-craftsmen. The façade is composed of two orders surmounted by a large pediment, and clearly shows the two different styles in the long balcony supported by telamons (six human figures and seven animals) and the balustrade decorated by putti holding emblems
“LU LAURU” O “LAURIEDDHU”
Lu Lauru” o “Laurieddhu” is a little elf who is part of the imaginary Salento . Often spiteful , lu lauru is one who hides objects in homes or who , in the tradition of Salento , weaves , at night , the horses’ tails
TRIBUTE TO TITO SCHIPA
Since April 2nd 2002, you can hear the famous Tito Schipa’s voice (singing) at noon time for 30 seconds. Today many tourists gather in St. Oronzo square every day to listen to him. So for half a minute every day tourists might live the experience of listening to his voice singing in the main square of the town( some loud speakers are located on the roof of the town Municipality-Carafa Palace) as he used to do every year during the Patron Saint day celebrations, singing the famous Shubert’s “Ave Maria”. The same song is played on holidays. His wonderful soprano voice echoed also on Jannuary 3rd 1966 during his solemn funeral in Lecce(where he is buried), since, there had been one in New York City where he died on December 16th 1965. At the end of his funeral all the citizens gathered in the main square to listen to his incredible voice for the last time.
Every year on the All Saint’s day and on All soul’s day at the entrance of the cemetery there are some street vendors selling the “Fanfullicchie”. It is a long twisted candy originally mint flavour, now produced in different flavours and colors.
At the end of the XIX century an ice cream vendor(Father of 16 sons!!) worried of the end of the ice cream season invented this new tofee becoming very popular. Today the “Fanfullicchie” are part of our tradition and a sweet memento during the sad rainy days of the beginning of November.
FEAST OF ST ORONZO
It is the traditional event that marks the end of summer for the local citizens. The religious celebrations begin on August 24th in the afternoon, when all the different confraternities, politics and faithfulls meet up in Duome square for the religious procession held along the streets in the historic center. During the three days of celebrations there are several shows, meetings and all the city is enlighted by illuminations; celebrations finish on the 26th at night with the final fireworks show
CRAFT FAIR OF SAINT LUCIA
The St. Lucy’s Fair or “Pupi’s fair”(original name) is an important tradition in Lecce. Its origins date back to the 60’ and it was originally located in a specific area close to the Tito Schipa square. Up until the 80’ this fair lasted only one day, on December the 13th, a day dedicated to the St. Lucy’s celebrations. On the contrary today the same event has become one of the most important events of the town and lasts until December 24th. It is a sort of exhibition that promote the local Christmas craft and its artisans also named “pupari”( pupi makers). Pupari exhibit in their stalls nativities and so many characters of the Nativity (pupi) in different sizes, making the Christmas period in Lecce something unique and magic.