Wandering the narrow streets of Lecce (and always getting lost) over several days was one of the best travel experiences I’ve had. Although the city has a population of about 100,000 and a very active and successful business community, the ancient city at the center is protected, authentic, delightful. I thought it might be fun for you to read about and see some of the bits of Lecce that made it very special.
On my first night in town, taking a walk without any idea where I was going or how to find my way back… stumbled upon the remains of the Roman amphitheater. Just behind it was a recently restored 14th century building that’s served as the center of town forever. The next day I found the stage and remaining seats of the Roman theatre. Everywhere I found late renaissance churches and palaces and ordinary homes. A block from the theatre stand the pair of ancient olive trees I’ve shown above. I wonder if the Romans planted them? I think I slept in a renaissance barn. It was all enchanting.
No matter how hard I tried, how much attention I paid, how much I planned ahead, how many maps I used, I got lost every day at least once. This is a really small area! I got the most lost on the last morning lugging my bags to the train station. I had been there at least three times but I got so twisted up near my apartment! I came upon a group of men chatting on a Sunday morning and asked “which way to the stazione?” Two of them immediately disengaged from their friends and began leading me to the station, taking my luggage in hand. On the way there one of them had to head off in another direction but the other stayed with me all the way. He was so nice, dragging my stuff, testing his English with me. I have found the young people everywhere I’ve gone in Italy to be very good to old ladies!
As reported in my last post, the soft stone of Lecce is said to be easy to carve. Saints and angels peer down at pedestrians all over town. The palaces (palazzi) have lushly carved window and door surrounds but my favorite thing about them were the balconies outside every window. Balconies held up for centuries by carved heads and shoulders of men and women and animals.
Another tradition in Lecce is papier maché. Our guide pointed out to us in one 17th century church that the ceiling was entirely made of the original papier maché. But the most fun use of it appears as small souvenirs for tourists to take home and small street sculptures. Here’s one example.
Pastries, pasta and prosciutto
Of course food! Good homemade (bakery and restaurant made) traditional food. Every day begins with a “cornetto” – a croissant filled with vanilla custard or Nutella or something equally good and a tiny cup of espresso used to transport several teaspoons of sugar into a body. Cheese: I ordered a caprese salad and got an entire mozzarella the size of a baseball. Pizza everywhere! Naples style. Pasta with an unending variety of toppings. Sandwiches and salads topped with ham, usually thin slices of prosciutto. My favorite restaurant was called Nonna Tetti (correct me if I’m wrong but I believe “nonna” means grandmother). A charming small trattoria with a varied menu and low prices.
I must share with my friends this work of art I found in the town’s modern art museum.
Next: surprising Catania! Come back soon.